KELLYE TESTY: Hello, everybody. It’s really nice to see you today. I’m Kellye Testy, the president and CEO of LSAC and also LSAC’s work in what’s called LawHub, which many of you I know have already begun to use and encounter. We’re really glad that you’ve joined us today to take a look at “The Year Ahead: The 1L Year and Beyond.” I want to let you know that I’m joined today by a wonderful expert of legal education, Susannah Pollvogt, and she serves as the senior director of legal education solutions at LSAC — and, as I noted, is an expert in helping people thrive in law school and beyond. Welcome, Susannah.
We are really glad to join with you today and really appreciate everyone who’s tuned in to this program. We enjoyed an earlier webinar focused more on why law school and how to prepare to get in. Today, we wanted to take a look more directly at law school itself and talk a little bit about how to thrive there. Of course, I know that that’s a little bit of a loaded question right now, because so many of you are still in the admission process or still trying to figure out, am I applying this year or am I going to get in where I want, where should I go, and all those things.
I understand that that’s some of what’s on your mind, but a lot of you have decided and you’re ready to go. We want to provide information today that both helps you in your journey toward law school and that really helps you once you’re there, and even knowing what’s coming is often so, so useful. That’s our goal today, is to share a lot of the wisdom that we have at LSAC in working with every law school in the nation, in Canada, and many around the world, and to help you understand what that opportunity is, how to get there, and how to thrive once you are there.
I want to thank many of my colleagues at LSAC who are with me today behind the scenes, because they’ll be monitoring the Q&A, as will I. While Susannah and I will try and answer some of your questions live during our presentation today, we won’t be able to get to all of them. My colleagues have kindly agreed to try and answer as many questions about the law school admissions process and law school as possible today. Please feel free to share your questions in the Q&A and to keep an eye on that, because some of you may be asking the same question, and what others asked and the answer could be helpful to many of you.
Well, as we turn to thinking about what to expect when you get to law school, one of the first things I want to share with you is I’m just so glad of your interest. Law school is a wonderful experience, and it is an opportunity to build your problem-solving skills, so that you can make the difference you want to make in the world. There’s many things we care about in the world, many things we want to change, many things that we really want to see different. What law school does is, it gives you the tools and the positionality to actually make that change so that not only do you have the commitment to make the world a better place, you have the capacity to make the world a better place too. Those two things, commitment and capacity, is what you need to really move the world in the direction that you’d like to see it.
I also like to share at the outset that I know that law school can be intimidating. There’s so many stories about it. There’s books like One L, old movies like Kingsfield, things that make it seem very intimidating, but I want to let you know, as someone who’s been a dean of two law schools, been a professor teaching in the first year and upper level for decades now, that legal education has really evolved to be much more student-centric, much more supportive. Everyone wants you to thrive and is there to help you grow as much as you can.
Now, to be sure, we’re serious about it, because while we love you as our students, we are also caring about the public and the clients you will serve. What we’re asking is that you devote yourself in law school to really rigorous preparation, to growing the most you can in those problem-solving skills, to learning the new language of the law, to empowering yourself to be able to make the kind of change you want to make.
Now, that all said, let’s get a little more specific about what you can really expect and how you can thrive. Susannah, I want to call on you now to share with our audience today what they can expect, what are some of the things they can look forward to, but also what are some of the challenges that might be there and how do you recommend that the students prepare to meet those challenges. Susannah, thanks for joining us.
SUSANNAH POLLVOGT: Thank you so much, Kellye, and everything you said was so true and really resonates with me and the reasons why I went to law school and the reasons I love working with law students. Hi, everyone. I’m so excited to be here with you. As Kellye mentioned, I’m Susannah Pollvogt, and I’m the senior director for legal education solutions here at LSAC.
I’m going to talk for a few minutes about the challenges of law school, but also about the things that you have to look forward to. You might ask yourself, well, what do I know about the challenges of law school? Well, outside of having gone to law school myself, I spent the past 14 years of my career working with law students, mostly one on one, helping them navigate the academic requirements of law school. I will say, the study of law is invigorating. It’s empowering. It’s also really challenging. That should come as a surprise to none of you. No one ever said that law school would be easy.
I think what is surprising is the particular way in which law school is challenging. One of the main reasons law school is challenging is that you don’t know what to expect when you get there. Unlike other graduate programs, law school is not an extension of your undergraduate studies. You are studying brand new material and learning and performing in a brand new way. If there’s only one thing I could have you take away from this conversation, it would be that law school is different than undergrad.
I’ll tell you, when I was working with law students every year, the beginning of the second semester, there were students who would come into my office because they were disappointed in their first-semester grades. I would ask them, “What happened?” They always said, “I didn’t believe you when you told me that law school is different. I tried using the same study habits that worked for me in undergrad, and they just didn’t work in law school.”
What is it about law school that’s so different? Well, first of all, the type and the volume of reading that you’re going to be doing is very different. The vocabulary is different: You’ll be learning an entirely new language. Even the way that you’re going to be called on in class is different, and the type of writing and logic that is required is different.
Finally, the way that you will be evaluated on exams is very different. That’s OK, because there are people at your law school who are there to help you navigate this very different learning environment. Your professors can help you. Upper-level students can help you. There will be academic support professionals at your law school whose sole job is to help you do your best academically. On top of all of that, LSAC is here to help you. Specifically, our LawHub platform will offer programming and resources to guide you through your time in law school. We’ll talk more about that in just a few minutes.
Essentially, to do your best in law school, you’re going to have to raise your learning game. What can you do to prepare for that now? I would recommend reading an accessible book on learning theory, like this one, Make It Stick, so that you can become familiar with expert learning techniques prior to the beginning of law school.
Another major challenge with law school is something you might not expect. It’s something we call imposter syndrome, or feeling that you don’t really belong in law school. I want you to know that you will have moments of self-doubt and of struggle. Again, that’s OK. There are people at your law school who are there to help you. Also, just know that you’re not alone. In fact, the majority of law students go through some sort of crisis of confidence while they’re in law school, usually during their first year. Everyone thinks that they’re the only one who feels this way, but after talking to thousands of law students over the years, I can assure you that this is not the case. You are not alone in feeling this way.
Which leads me to my final point: What things can you look forward to in law school? Really, there’s so much, but I honestly think the most rewarding aspect of law school is the relationships that you will build there with your professors, with your peers, and with folks in the administration and on the staff who are rooting for your success, just like Kellye said.
Kellye, another thing our attendees are probably thinking about is, what can they do right now to get ready for law school? What would you say are some of the skills they can work on before law school even starts?
KELLYE: Thanks, Susannah. Thanks for that nice overview, too, of what the law school experience is. Of course, it’s always a great idea, if you have some time, to really get ready and do some things beforehand, but I also want to let you all know, don’t overly stress about that. It isn’t as if there’s one thing that’s right to do as you get in. Law school is meant to help you thrive from the minute you get there on forward, but there are some things that you can start to think about and some understanding of your own capacity that I think can begin to help you.
Let me start by saying the good news is, there’s already a lot of skills you have that will be very useful to you in law school and on into your career. The bad news is, I suppose, although it’s fun, there’s a lot of skills you need to learn in law school to really become the lawyer and make the impact that you want to make.
Let me first start with some of the skills that we classically think of as really defining what a legal education is. One of them is called critical thinking. What that is, is an ability to, as some people might say, to almost see around corners, to be able to anticipate, if this happens, then what’s likely to be next, and then what should we do about it — to really take a problem and hold it up and examine it from all different perspectives, and that’s why diversity makes the educational experience so much stronger, because the more perspectives that we can bring to bear on a problem, the more that we can be likely to solve it for more people, for a longer term.
Know that the “you” that you bring to law school is going to be very useful, because all of our experiences are different, and those perspectives matter, and they add to the richness of the experience. That critical thinking skill is really important. Part of thinking critically is starting by reading carefully. I often tell my students that if they can remember two rules, they can mostly get through law school. Those rules are: Read carefully, and read on. Because many times, when you first read something, you’re used to reading it quick, and especially in this social media area we’re in, but in law school, we grind through it word by word, really paying attention to that text and understanding what every word means.
Then, we have to be careful to not stop, but to read on, because sometimes, especially with a statute, but also in a case, one thing that’s said early may be qualified by something that’s said later. You might announce a general rule, but then you might have exceptions to it that you need to understand. Thinking critically, reading carefully, reading very, very carefully, and reading on, those are very important skills.
Sometimes in law school, as an example, I might, in a first-year contracts class or one of my business organizations classes, I might assign just 10 pages of reading, and you might think 10 pages is nothing, but when you realize that it takes quite a bit of time to work through those materials, because they’re dense. There’s a lot there that we have to make sure we absorb. Sometimes there’s new words that we have to learn the meaning of.
I want to make sure you all know, too, that you can learn this language. When I started law school, I was a first-generation college graduate. I had no idea what I was really getting into. There were many — I didn’t know lawyers. There were not lawyers in my family. I had to learn, from the start, the language of the law. I kept a law dictionary very close to me, looking up what various words meant. You can do that, too — critical thinking, careful reading.
Then, of course, the other skill that’s very important for lawyers is writing. In order to write well, we have to think well. That’s why I started with critical thinking and reading. But being able to express ourselves orally and in writing clearly, and so that we’re conveying to an often non-law audience what it is we mean. That writing skill is just so important, whether you’re writing a memo to a client, or writing a brief, or speaking to a client, or interviewing a witness. Those communication skills are really important and vital.
Now, you might notice that those three skills — writing, reasoning and critical thinking, and reading; reading, writing, and reasoning — those are exactly the skills that the LSAT tests. The good news is, for those of you who have studied for it and taken it, you’ve already begun an on-ramp to your learning about law. That’s not a coincidence. The reason that we have those kinds of questions is so it can help prepare you, so that that learning helps you launch in law school and helps you know whether this feels like a good fit for you.
I also want to share that when we think about the skills of law school — and so much of it’s the reading, the writing, and the reasoning — I also want to make sure you know that as much as you’re going to acquire a new set of skills in law, that there’s also a broader set of skills that lawyers need to thrive. Those skills are ones that many of you have already, you’ve developed in other ways.
A big one, for example, is resilience, and goodness, making it through this pandemic, we’ve all learned resilience, haven’t we, and the ability to have determination and try hard and work hard and be organized and care about people and get along with people. Those are things we bring, and we want to keep honing. It also helps for lawyers to know a little bit about business and finance, because so much of what we do is in the world where their business is operating. It helps us to know a little about technology and be able to feel comfortable with that. But those are things you can build up in law school.
Also, of course, I want to emphasize that what we sometimes called DEI skills, or cultural competency, is critical, because every client you work with is a different person. Every group, every community, brings their own experience and concerns. You have to be able to understand difference, to work across difference civilly, and to bring people together. Those skills are likewise just so valuable for law school, and many of you have done that in various ways already.
Know that what our law schools are looking for, and what will be making that classroom environment so rich, is when you bring “you,” and when you realize that the skills you bring can now be added onto by the skills that law school will help you acquire, so that you become very competent, professional, well-rounded, and ready to serve whatever causes and communities that you most care about.
Now, Susannah, I want to come back to you and ask a little bit about if you could give some more suggestions from your experience for how students might practice those skills and really deepen their ability to thrive once they’re in law school.
SUSANNAH: Great, yes, that’d be my pleasure. I did want to echo a couple of things that you said, Kellye, that I think are so important. One is this idea of bringing your authentic self to law school. A lot of times, we think lawyers are this sort of special creature and they’re different than normal human beings. Really, all of you can be lawyers, and you can be your own type of lawyer, and you don’t have to change, fundamentally change who you are to study the law and to become a lawyer. I really love that point.
Another great point in what you said was the focus on communication, right? I often tell students, if they want to know if they’ve really learned a subject in law school, they should see if they can describe it in a way that makes sense to a friend, or a brother or sister or someone, who hasn’t gone to law school. You’re going to run into a lot of really complicated language, and maybe some convoluted writing, I would say, when you read judicial opinions, especially the older ones in your first year of law school, but just realize that being clear and concise, which I’ll talk about a little bit more in a minute, is actually what we’re aiming for.
OK, so, let’s take a little closer look at some of the skills that you’ll need for law school. I’m going to give you a tip: These are the skills that we will be teaching in the Law School Unmasked program in June. Make sure to listen up when we talk more about that program in a few minutes.
When we think about skills for law school, we often think about law-school-specific skills like reading and briefing cases and understanding statutes. Those skills are very important, but equally important are foundational academic skills, much of which Kellye has already mentioned like careful reading of texts and clear, concise writing.
One thing I can’t emphasize enough is that for most of you, your relationship to text, to the written word, will change profoundly while you’re in law school. Most of you are used to reading text on a device, like your phone or your laptop. While I’m not going to try to force you to do otherwise, I do encourage you to really think about the difference between reading on a device and reading from a book, with a pen in hand for making annotations and taking notes. The reading you will be processing in law school is dense, it’s complicated, and it’s in this foreign language. Active reading, reading with your pen in your hand, can really help improve your comprehension of those complicated materials.
Most of you are also probably used to reading relatively short pieces of writing and reading those pieces quickly. In law school, you’re going to have a large volume of reading, and you’re going to have to sometimes read cases over and over again until you understand them, especially in your first semester. It’s a different type of reading than what you’re used to doing up until this point, but the thing is, it does get better. I see this every single year teaching students: Every single week that goes by, you will become a more efficient and effective reader, and also writer. Just recognize that this is a steep learning curve, and embrace the learning process.
In addition, one of the most important skills you’ll want to work on is time management. When you’re in law school, you’re going to be juggling your classes, your reading time, your legal writing deadlines, various other tasks, your personal life. One thing that you can do now is to get a weekly planner, either a paper planner or an electronic planner, and get into the habit of scheduling tasks and appointments, really budgeting your time very consciously and carefully. As you may know, lawyers, many lawyers who work for private law firms, they bill their time in six-minute increments. That means that their day is scheduled in six-minute increments. Really thinking precisely about how you spend your time in what you’re accomplishing is a great habit to get into sooner rather than later.
Finally, it may seem like a small thing, but the majority of you will be taking law school exams, and ultimately the Bar exam, on a laptop. If you are a slow typist, you really might benefit from improving your typing skills between now and when law school starts. Unfortunately, I’ve worked with a lot of students who were very bright and very dedicated to their studies, but their typing speed was so slow that it didn’t allow them to perform their best on exams. Look for some programs that might improve your typing speed. They’re available online and can help you with that aspect of your academic readiness.
In another vein, research has shown that some of the most important qualities employers and clients are looking for in a lawyer are not really specific skills at all, but personal qualities of the type of Kellye mentioned — things like resilience, things like the ability to accept critical feedback, and a sense of ownership over your work.
I want to make a special point there about critical feedback. Many of you who go to law school are very good writers, and you’ve always been good writers, and you’ve been praised on your writing. When you take your first-year legal writing class, you are going to get a lot of feedback, because you have to learn how to write in a very, very different way in law school. What I have seen in my experience is that students who can accept and incorporate that feedback are going to get along a lot better and more easily than students who kind of resist getting that critical feedback. Really think about being open to the learning process and making sure that you accept the critique that’s helpfully sent your way by your professors.
One thing that you can do now is really just reflect on your personal strengths and weaknesses in terms of some of these qualities. Think about: Are there ways that I can improve those qualities in myself? There are many, many more skills you will need in law school, but the time to go into detail on that will be a little bit later. Like I said, it’ll be in June, when we go through the Law School Unmasked program.
Ultimately, you’re at law school to learn to think and read and write like a lawyer, and to become a lawyer who serves clients. As Kellye mentioned, everyone at the law school, at your law school, wants to support your success, but it’s rigorous. Legal education is rigorous and demanding because at the end of the day, you’re going out there to serve clients, and we want to make sure that you have that critical thinking, that you have that understanding of the law, to be able to serve clients well.
When you think about building yourself as a professional and ultimately getting to the point where you graduate and start practicing law, coming all the way back to your first year of law school, recognizing that there are specific academic skills that you need for law school, is really a key to that process of developing as a lawyer. Working on these skills now will set you up for success in law school, and ultimately in the legal profession.
As Kellye said, you don’t need to be spending all summer working on getting ready for law school. It’s really important to recharge your batteries and kind of think about what your goals are and why you’re going to law school, but there are still some things that you can do between now and when you start law school that will help you feel a little bit better prepared. Kellye, there’s a lot going on in LSAC right now that’s going to support students in their preparation and success, and maybe you could talk a little bit about that.
KELLYE: Susannah, I’d be glad to do that. Maybe I’ll ask you to stay on with me for another minute before I get into that, because I just had a couple follow-up questions for you, if you don’t mind. Some of the people that are watching wanted a little bit more about what you mean by reading with a pen in your hand. I thought that would be a good opportunity to expand a little bit on what that means, and also this difference between maybe taking notes by hand versus typing in class, and just your own thoughts, from working with so many students, on what you’ve seen work best.
SUSANNAH: Absolutely. Those are really good and sophisticated questions. I talk about annotating texts. What I mean there, very simply, is doing things like underlining key phrases. When I’m reading a complex judicial opinion, I like to put a box around the party’s name so it really jumps off the page at me, right? What you’re doing is, you’re not, you don’t want to just have your eyes traveling over the words on the page. You want to be dissecting, word by word, and thinking about what every word means and what its function is in the judicial opinion.
Again, judicial opinions, of which you’ll be reading a lot in your first year in law school, they’re different documents than a novel. It’s different than a textbook you might have in undergrad. It’s different than a newspaper article or a blog post. It’s a functional document — that is, the job of the judicial opinion is to solve a problem, to solve a conflict between two parties. It’s really critical that you get in there and parse the text and understand how the court is going about the process of solving that particular problem.
Also, Kellye, you mentioned having your Black’s Law Dictionary next to you when you were in law school; I did the same thing. There are so many new vocabulary words. Don’t just skip over them. Your professor will ask you what that one word that you didn’t know what it meant, they’ll ask you what it means. You want to take a note of those and look them up in your law dictionary or look them up online, whatever is easiest for you.
We’re going to talk in Law School Unmasked in June a lot about case briefing, which is kind of a specific skill that you’re going to use a lot in your first semester, especially at law school but really, case briefing is just a way of taking notes on what you’ve read. Again, your professors will expect you to have digested what you’ve read in a way that’s probably pretty different than what you did in undergrad. You want to work with the materials in such a way that when your professor asks you a question, you’ve really kind of mapped it out in your head and you’re ready to answer whatever that question is.
To get to your second question, Kellye, this is a battle that has been fought for many years, about whether students should take their notes on laptops or write by hand. I’ll reveal a little bit about myself here: that when I went to law school, we were just getting laptops in the classroom and it was very exciting. There was one outlet for the entire classroom. I thought I would be really cutting-edge and take my notes on a computer. It was the worst thing that I could do.
What happens for a lot of students is that when they’re taking notes on their computer, they’re actually taking dictation, and you’re not processing, you’re not actively processing the information that you’re hearing when you’re doing that. You don’t have to take my word for it. Study after study after study shows that both retention and comprehension is improved by taking notes by hand. That, again, might be a skill that’s kind of rusty for you if you haven’t done it for a while. It’s something you might want to think about working on prior to beginning your law school classes.
KELLYE: Good, Susannah, thank you for that. In my experience, I think that’s really the difference, is that sometimes when we’re typing, we’re just hearing and putting it down and not thinking. What you want is your own methodology that can make you really process it. There is no one right answer to that. It depends on what works for you, whatever helps you really get it and make it stick.
I’ll give you a personal example. When I was in law school, I heard everyone was making these big, long outlines, and I was very upset about that, because I wasn’t making outlines. I was making a chart. I had decided that for each main subject area, I would make a chart and kind of pull everything together so that I saw how it worked. But I just had one piece of paper, and some of my classmates had huge, thick outlines. I thought, “Oh, no, I’m going to fail.”
Well, as it turned out, my chart-making was actually distilling all that learning. I didn’t know that at the time, but it was synthesizing, it was making sure I saw how things fit together. I saw the relationship between different concepts. That worked for me. Outlines worked for other students. Just know that whatever works for you so that you’re really thinking about it.
If I may, Susannah, before I go on to talk a little bit more about LawHub, share one other example. I think it’s hard, when we haven’t done this before, to realize how closely we have to read words, but one really simple example always stood out for me, is that you imagine that a city passes a law that says, “No vehicles in the park.” That’s the law. Looks easy, right? “No vehicles in the park,” five words. OK, fine. Now, we know what that says, but what happens if there’s a tractor in the park that’s not the city’s; is that a vehicle? What about a bicycle? Is a bicycle a vehicle? What if there’s a food truck parked alongside the park? Is that in the park, or is it outside the park? What happens if there is a nice river that runs through and someone puts a motorboat on it; is that a vehicle? Is it in the park?
You can see right away that there can be, in the factual world, that we encounter just so many questions. Something that seems very clear and very easy, “No vehicles in the park,” might get very complex once we’re really trying to work with it. That’s one example where I hope it helps you see that — what’s a vehicle? What’s in the park, versus alongside or out of the park? What’s a park? Is that a river way? Is that just a city-designated park? All these questions can come up, one little example and you’ll be learning a lot more like that in Law School Unmasked. Look forward to that.
On that topic, I want to say that, Susannah, I’m so glad that you’re working with our LawHub team, because LawHub is your one-stop shop for everything, from prelaw to practice, in legal education. LawHub is meant to help you along every step of that journey. Many of you already know that it provides you free LSAT prep and helps you build those initial reading, writing, and reasoning skills, but it also takes you on into law school, helps you there and on into the Bar and into career. One platform, one easy word, LawHub, to remember for that whole journey.
Along that way, Susannah, there’s a lot of things coming that will really help students. I want to turn it to you and just share my own excitement, because I know when I was in law school, I sure would have loved to have one place to go, one platform where I could have gone all the way through my journey. I think this will be very helpful to law students everywhere. Maybe you can preview some of the things coming.
SUSANNAH: Absolutely. My pleasure. Yes, when I went to law school, the idea of getting any additional assistance was a pretty foreign concept, but luckily, that’s changing. There are a lot of resources out there to help law students. Again, your academic support professional at your law school is a great person to go to, to help guide you to those resources. What we hope is that they’re going to send you to LawHub, because we want to provide everything that you might possibly need there to support you, again, from deciding whether to go to law school all the way through your academic performance in law school, to the Bar exam, and beyond.
The common theme, the core common theme of what we’re doing with LawHub, is we’re trying to guide and empower students: again, deciding whether to go to law school, where to go to law school, how to do your best once you get to law school. There’s some specific programming that we’re planning for the near term. Most of you who are attending this webinar today are starting law school this fall, but if you have friends who are earlier in the process of deciding whether to go to law school, you should tell them about our program called Admissions Unmasked, and also about the live events taking place every month related to that.
In this prelaw programming, we’re going to cover things like interacting effectively with law school representatives, essay writing for your law school application, preparing for the LSAT, making smart choices about where to go to law school, and more than that. For those of you, again, probably most of you who are at this webinar, who are planning on starting law school this fall, we have a lot of live events coming up over the next few months.
At these events, we’re going to cover topics like law school scholarship appeals, financial aid, making informed decisions about which law school to attend, making the transition to law school, and more. You can sign up for the February and March events now. There should be a link in the chat that’ll allow you to do so. What you want to do is you want to click on the link, click “Sign up for live events,” and then fill out the form with your LSAC username and which events you want to register for.
Then, in June, you will have the opportunity to participate in this program we’ve referred to a few times now; it’s called Law School Unmasked. You may have heard about it last year from friends of yours. It was tremendously successful. This year, we’re trying to make it even better and even more useful to you. We’re going to cover more topics. We’re going to have some interactive learning modules.
At the same time, we’re respectful of your time and we want to make it very time-efficient in terms of your learning process. It’s really, it’s going to be sort of A to Z of the academic skills that you need to succeed in law school, broken down, explained by experts, and with a chance to practice those skills yourself, so you can get a feeling for what law school is going to be like prior to actually beginning your classes.
Really, as I mentioned earlier, there are specific skills that you need in law school that are different than your undergraduate skills. The purpose of the Law School Unmasked program is to introduce you to those skills and get you ready to hit the ground running. That program is going to be taught by actual, real-life law professors, people who are experts at helping students navigate law school.
Then, we’re also going to hear from current law students about their experiences. That’s one of the most useful things, I think, to entering law students, is to hear straight from other students what they’ve experienced while in law school, what challenges they faced, how they overcame those challenges, et cetera.
To participate in this program, the Law School Unmasked program, you will need to have an active subscription to LawHub, but I believe you’re going to find that it’s really worth it. Law school is a whole new world. We are here to guide you through it. And that’s the whole idea behind Law School Unmasked. Now, I think we have time for questions, unless there’s anything else you wanted to add, Kellye.
KELLYE: Thank you so much. It took me a minute to get my camera back on. I thought that one of the things that I might add, and it relates to what I’m seeing in some of the questions, Susannah, is that there’s a number of people writing in about, maybe they’ve had some time in between undergrad and law school, they may have worked for a number of years or taken some time off to raise children, or what have you, and the question is just, is there anything that that group needs to particularly think about as the preparation is made to start law school?
I will say first my own view, and then I would welcome your views, Susannah, and that is just that I think, in my experience, I’ve worked with a lot of students who have time in between undergrad and law. I had almost six years myself in between. The good news is, you’ve learned something about the world. It helps you a little bit as you come to law school, because some of the context, the facts you’re reading are, you can understand them a little bit easier, but you’ve kind of gotten out of the habit of tests and study, so, just getting yourself back into that student mode.
In law school, that’s particularly challenging, because it’s a serious student mode, in the sense that many of my students who have done MBA programs or done other graduate degrees find that law school is a lot more demanding on the time required to prepare. That brings the question, too, for those students who may already be working: Should I go part time and keep working, or should I really devote all the time to law school?
Again, I don’t think there’s one right answer. I know many people who have thrived doing part time and working, but it does take a lot of organization, and you don’t have time for much else if you’re … it’s hard to have a lot of time during that for family, let’s say, or other activities if you’re working and school, because school is intense. Susannah, any comment on that before we pull from some other questions?
SUSANNAH: I echo everything that you said. I think that was really on point. A few thoughts: One is we do, and I do, fall into the trap of thinking mostly about folks who are coming pretty closely after undergrad, but of course, there are tons of law students who have had time off between undergrad and law school. I think in so many ways, that can really be a benefit to you in terms of life experience and perspective on the things that you’re talking about in law school.
One thing that I think applies, whether you are coming fresh out of undergrad or you’ve been away for a while, is just to appreciate that in law school, we are all novices, even if you were prelaw in undergrad, this material is brand new to you; you are there to learn. I encourage you to embrace the learning project and not fall into the trap of thinking, “Well, I was at the top of my class,” or “I’m this mature, experienced person, and so I got this law school thing.” You will get it. You’ll totally figure it out, but you have to appreciate, and I think, the way I think about it, is having humility in the face of the learning project, because it really is pretty profound.
A student that has a family already is going to have family obligations, and that puts you in a different position than perhaps someone who does not have those family obligations. I would kind of double down on the advice I was giving earlier, which is to strengthen your time management skills. In fact, I’d say some of the folks I know with the best time management skills are folks who were balancing family obligations while in law school.
In connection with that, we should say this right up front: 45 hours a week, probably minimum in your first semester, spent on law school, and that’s per the American Bar Association standards for what it means for each credit of the law school class that you take. Really good to have that in mind, and that’s for a three-year program, obviously, not a part-time program, but really good to have that in mind when you think about what you can realistically do while you’re in law school.
Second and third year, you’re going to have more experience being a law student and it might be a little bit different, but first year, I would strongly recommend, especially if you’re in a full-time program, to stay away from work, to stay away from outside obligations. I always like to say don’t get a puppy, because puppies are a lot of work and you’ve got enough to do with law school.
Then, the final piece of advice that I was going to offer was, again, the idea of understanding that you are there to become an expert learner, that you’re going to have to be an expert learner to really do your best in law school. Reading a book about learning theory and about the practices of expert learners can really help you, especially if you’ve been out of school for a while.
KELLYE: Very good. Thank you so much. I also see a number of questions here about personal statements in the application process. I’ll hit that quick before I talk about one other question I see. And that is that, in the personal statement, the schools really do want to know you. That’s your opportunity to kind of give them the context of you. Some of you are asking things like, what if I’ve had a gap year? Should I say anything about that? Yeah. Explain. They’re looking for the narrative of: What have you been doing, and what are you wanting to do? Why do you think this school is a good fit? Any tentative ideas of what you might want to do with law? But don’t worry if you’re not sure.
Many people go to law school not knowing what area of law they want to practice. Sometimes we think we know, and we get in law school and we change our minds. That’s OK. Many of us just sort of start with something and see how that feels and goes. Use that personal statement to really express who you are, because they really want to see that. You’re not just your LSAT score. You’re not just your GPA. You’re not just who you happen to know and which school you went to.
You are your own person, and they want to know that because they’re trying to build a diverse, outstanding class. That helps them do that so that the educational experience is all the richer, because everyone won’t think about everything the same way, because otherwise, that would be too narrow for law. Susannah, anything else about personal statements you want to add? Some are asking about whether there’s some help that LSAC can give on there. Anything else there, then I’ll pick up another question.
SUSANNAH: Yeah, yeah. I love talking about personal statements. This is really your time to shine and one of the, I don’t want to call them mistakes, but one of the mistakes that I see prospective law students doing is, they think they actually need to know something about the law and kind of incorporate that in their personal statement, and you do not. No one expects you to know anything about the law or what kind of lawyer you want to be. That’s just premature. Really tell your story.
I think the other thing that’s so important for a personal statement is to find your voice — really speak from your authentic voice. That’s what the schools want to see. Just as Kellye said, they want to know who you are.
KELLYE: Yeah, absolutely. Well, one other strand of a question that I’m seeing here is around a little more understanding of what happens in law school class, what I mean by an outline, and what the heck are law school exams about? I’ll mention those briefly, and then, Susannah, I would welcome any comment that you have as well.
Let me start by saying that one thing I recommend to each of you. If you’re thinking about law school, or even if you’ve already been admitted, visit a law school and sit in on a class, because I think that’ll just give you a view of what happens in there. Try and sit in on a first-year class, like contracts or torts or criminal law or constitutional law, and that’ll just give you a feel for how the class is conducted. Because one of the things that’s so different about law school is that we’re used, in education, to having a subject area where the professor kind of professes it and sort of says, “This is psychology and here’s the things you gotta know about it.” Then, we try and remember those, and then we write them down again on an exam to show we acquired that learning.
In law school, that’s just the start. You need to know what is the law, but that is just a very beginning, just like my example of “No vehicles in the park.” There’s your law. Done. Easy. The hard part is applying it. You often hear it said that in law school, what we’re asking you for is what’s called the IRAC method: I-R-A-C, meaning issue, what’s the issue; what’s the rule, the law; how do we analyze it; and then the C, what conclusion do we reach about what a court might likely do?
What I’ve always wanted to make sure students know is that I-R-A-C are not equally treated in law school. There’s an I and an R, we could have capitals for those, but then there’s 15 A’s: analysis, analysis, analysis, analysis, analysis all over the board. That’s what law school works on with you, is how to think, how to analyze, what to expect, what if this, what if that, what if it’s a tractor, what if it’s a boat, what if it’s not a park, on and on and on. The conclusion is not as important, because that’s going to depend on the judge and a lot of other factors.
One of the things that I like to stress is that what your outline’s doing is trying to make sure you have a sense of how the rules fit together, what is the basic framework, but then it’s giving you an ability to think about the next case that comes up, the one you haven’t thought about before. It’s not asking you to just write down what already happened. That doesn’t matter anymore. That’s history. We use that as part of our learning, but then the real question is, what’s the next case and how are we going to resolve it?
A lot of what you spend your time on in class is getting the practice in of how to do that so that it’s like muscle memory, and you start to get good at it, and you start to feel comfortable with it, and you will. You’ll be shocked when you go to law school. The first year will seem like a big, uphill learning curve. Then, by second year, you won’t believe all that you now know. You hang in there.
On exams, it’s the same idea. The faculty is not asking you to recite what already happened. The faculty is giving you a fact pattern, and usually asking you to then say how you think you would approach it as a lawyer. What rules do you draw on? How do you analyze it? What might happen? That’s a lot of what the exams are going to ask of you, is not recitation, not just regurgitation, but thinking, thinking hard, not being afraid to see ambiguity. Don’t try and tuck in all the complexity. Many times, what you want to do is show that you see the complexity to say something like, “Well, this case could go either way, and here’s why.” That’s what you’re looking for. Susannah, any follow-up or another question that you’re seeing that you want to throw out there?
SUSANNAH: Yeah, I would love to follow up. I just love these questions. You all are asking the right questions. I just want to say please, please, please come to Law School Unmasked. We’re going to take apart all these little pieces of these skills that you need, like writing an outline, taking a law school exam, reading and briefing cases, and explain it to you in great depth, because there’s just too much to cover in a one-hour webinar like this. Please do think about coming to that.
One thing we’re going to be doing in Law School Unmasked is, we’re going to have a mock class, right? You’re going to see a professor interacting with students and asking questions, and you’ll get a sense of what it’s like to sit in the law school classroom. The question of exams, there are so many metaphors that you could use to describe what exams are like, but what I always think about is, exams are a problem-solving exercise. It’s like a mathematical proof. You have to go in there and you have to show your work every step of the way in solving the particular problem.
The problem, we have what we call the “call the question.” The “call the question” might be, did A commit a battery against B? Right, simple question. You have to use all the law that you’ve learned, and all the facts that are given to you, to figure out the answer to the question. As Kellye said, you’re analyzing the nuances along the way.
Another way I think about law school exams is like playing football or dancing the waltz, right? What you’re doing during the semester is like you’re reading the handbook: OK, this is the particular type of play. We want to do a quarterback sneak or, I don’t know. I don’t know that much about football, but you get the playbook that tells you how things are done, but you’re not going to go out there and play in the Super Bowl, or go on to Dancing with the Stars, without practicing. You need to take that information you’ve learned, put it into practice, and that performance is what you’re going to be doing the day of your final law school exam. IRAC, I love that Kellye brought up IRAC. I am a huge fan of IRAC as a sort of logical tool. I think it’s really, really important for law students to understand, and we will go into that in depth in Law School Unmasked.
The last thing I wanted to say, I did see a question here from someone who said that they were panicking a little bit because they were a non-traditional student and a first-gen student, and I just want to say, don’t panic, don’t panic. Law school is hard. Law school is tough. There are so many people who are there to help you. I think, really, the biggest mistake that you can make is be like, “I’m going to go it alone. I don’t need any help.” We all need help. We all need help in law school, because it’s so challenging in so many different ways, but I’ve worked with a ton of first-gen students, a ton of non-traditional students or students with family obligations, who have done spectacularly well. Please don’t panic. Just look for the helpers, right? Look for the folks who can actually help you figure out the challenges that make up your legal education.
KELLYE: Good, thank you so much. I also see in the questions, a lot of questions about, are law schools supportive of disability and accessibility? Absolutely, just as LSAC is. Someone asked whether there could be any prejudice if they have an accommodation for extended time. Absolutely not. Faculty doing grading don’t even know that. There’s very good separation of function there. Law schools really want you to thrive. They are in this to help build the future of law and justice. You will find that the faculty and many of the support staff, the educational partners in the law schools, they’re there to help you. You’ll find academic resource centers that are wonderful. Your legal writing faculty are particularly good teachers, and just terrific in helping you get the skills acquired. There are career services counselors.
One of you asked a very important question; you asked about mental health resources for law students, noting that there can be a lot of stress in law school and that wellness is so vital. It absolutely is. I’m proud to say that LSAC and its member law schools have really seen a lot of improvement in law schools over the last few years in terms of resources for students. That’s become even more apparent of the need during the pandemic, but it was already growing. You will often see counseling resources on campus, you will see many programs to support law student mental health. You will find student deans and many others who are there to make sure you have the support you need.
A lot of us who lean toward the law lean a little Type A, a little competitive, a little striving, and so that can build up, but I have just seen, over the time I’ve been in law, the student bodies become more supportive of one another, the faculties even more supportive of students, all of us learning together that when we feel good, we learn more, and when we are doing something we love, we do it well. I think that’s what I want to ask all of you today as we get ready to wrap up — I’ll give Susannah the last word — is just, I hope you pursue your passion for justice. This will be a challenge, but you will be glad you did it. I have never been sorry. I have been challenged and interested my whole life in law, and every day still find that there’s something new to learn and some new difference to make. You’ll find your pathway, too. Susannah, back to you.
SUSANNAH: Those are such inspiring words. I’m going to close up here on something very practical. There is a prospective student who said, “Are there any study approaches or common practices found in undergrad that you would encourage new law students to shed quickly?” Yes, there are quite a few. Probably the number one is cramming at the end of the semester for your exam. There’s a whole science around this, called spaced repetition, which has to do with periodic review of what you’re learning for the entire duration of the semester.
Again, we’ll talk about this in Law School Unmasked, but you all are so bright, and I’m sure you could cram for exams and do really well in undergrad, but that is going to be a painful, painful experience in law school. I know a lot of what we said today, especially what I said, might make law school seem really intimidating, and it is intimidating, but I can’t stress enough that there are so many folks who want to help you. Please do rely on their help.
KELLYE: Thank you so much, Susannah. Well, Susannah and I will sign off now. I know we’re still answering some questions in the Q&A. We’ll try and get to as many of those as we can. LSAC is here for you, whether you’re just starting your journey or you’re knowing already where you’re headed. Please start that with LSAC.org and LawHub.
Our hands are outstretched, wanting to help you all the way along that journey. Best of luck to you in that, and please do stay tuned for Law School Unmasked this summer. We just scratched the surface today of what that program will go into, and so you’ve got a lot of good learning in store that can help you thrive. Thank you so much, and we’ll see you next time.