It has been almost four years since I graduated law school at Michigan
State and I must say that it was one of the best experiences of my
life. My wife, who attended with me, shares that sentiment. We loved
As opposed to providing the typical answer with attributions, may we
speak from the top of our heads? Here is our advice:
1. There is no ?major? in law school ? there is one bar exam that
everyone takes and as a consequence all future attorneys must be
prepared in the six ?multistate? bar topics (the vast majority of
states use the 200 question MBE ? Multistate Bar Exam for one day of a
two day exam, with the other day comprised of essay questions on state
law) and the six topics are: (1) contracts, (2) criminal law and
procedure, (3) constitutional law, (4)property, (5) torts, and (6)
evidence. (Note: some states also administer a practical test on top
of the MBE and Essays).
2. You cannot explain the 1L existence ? you have to live it. It is
totally unique academically, in our opinion. The Socratic Method takes
a little getting used to but you will be fine with it by week 6. The
first year of law school is a little like Marine Corps Boot Camp ?
they tear you down to the root and build you back up in a way so that
you really do ?think like a lawyer.? What does ?think like a lawyer?
mean? In part it is an ability to issue spot. I was talking to a 3L
the other day about this topic ? he noticed that in every conversation
where a friend starts the conversation with ?what do you think about .
. .? you immediately begin segmenting the friend?s points into issues
(?contract-UCC-anticipatory repudiation? or
?tort-intentional-conversion? or ?criminal-search-curtilage?).
3. Depending on your school, the first year curriculum is highly
fixed. For example, first semester might be: Contracts I, Civil
Procedure I, Torts, Criminal Law, and Research & Writing while the
second semester is Contracts II, Civil Procedure II, Property,
Constitutional Law I, and Research & Writing II. No electives. At MSU
we were with the same section all first year which was great because
you could commiserate with the same people. Check your law schools
academic schedule and you can lay out your schedule.
4. Hang out at your school and get a line on who the best first year
professors are try to enroll as early as possible to ensure that you
get into their sections. Best places to hang out to get this info?
Moot Court office or Law Review office. Or just pull up a chair in the
5. There are some outstanding audio tapes/cd?s for these first year
courses. For example, prior to our first year we obtained cd?s for
Torts since that was an area of the law for which we knew nothing.
Much of the info was a little deep, but we gained a basic appreciation
of this complex topic so that the jargon, at least, was not totally
foreign. Civil Procedure is also a foreign tongue and worthy of
spending a buck or two on the cd?s. Criminal law, on the other hand,
is pretty straight forward ? you watch a little Law & Order and you?ve
6. You may want to invest in a hornbook or two. For example, if you
buy ?Prosser on Torts? you will have a useful book for your library
for years to come. You see, the case books that you have for class
contain tons of cases but not much in the way of explanation in the
form of summary. A good hornbook on Civil Procedure would also be
useful. Ask your prof what they would suggest. Don?t spend too much
money on these though.
7. There are a thousand first year study aids ? Emmanuel?s outlines,
flash cards, etc. We bought them all and used hardly none of them. The
primary reason was that there wasn?t sufficient time ? we had all that
we could do to get through the required and assigned readings and the
readings of related law to supplement the case work.
8. Don?t get sucked into any wastes of time - if it doesn?t help you
gain knowledge in a class topic ? try to stay away. For example, law
fraternities and various clubs will do little to help you pass the bar
or get a job and they will suck up valuable hours that could be spent
trying to differentiate Justice Andrews dissent from Justice Cardoza?s
majority opinion in Palsgraf v Long Island RR. This advice does not
apply to those great organizations of Law Review and Moot Court, but
those are generally second year activities.
9. Are you using a laptop? If so, make sure that your outline
capability in your word processing program is well familiar to you.
10. Prior to classes beginning, make sure that your wireless
capability is compatible and that you have all passwords and protocols
nailed down so that you are fully functional at the beginning of
11. By the end of the third set of classes figure out who the bright
bulbs are and ask them if you can sit down in a study group with them.
12. Go to Blockbuster and rent ?The Paper Chase.? Professor Kingsfield Lives!
13. Make sure your private library has a copy of Black?s Law
Dictionary and make frequent use of it.
14. Live as near the law school as you can. Living on campus is a good
idea for first year ? in the graduate dorm as an example ? monastic
experiences are good for 1L?s and since you will be spending all of
your time in the library anyway, why spend the money on a nice
15. Plan ahead and know what your immediate future brings. For
example, on-campus job interviews occur in the fall of the 2L year.
3L?s have little hope of landing a plum position with a silk-stocking
firm. When can you write for the Law Review competition? When can you
apply to Moot Court (if you seek to be a litigator.)
16. 1L?s get worried to death (they don?t know what to expect), 2L?s
are worked to death (heavy classes and lots of legal research and
papers to write), and 3L?s are bored to death (just putting the
frosting on the legal cake).
17. Here is an interesting site that discusses law school success:
18. You will be preparing outlines for each course. When you get a
free moment and are caught up in your reading you should sharpen those
outlines. Color coding those outlines is a nice thing to do ? use a
red font, for example, for the areas that seem weak; green for those
areas in which you are comfortable.
19. Plan you exam calendar as far out as possible. Most law school
classes only have one exam ? the final exam ? and the exam schedule
for finals is published well ahead of time. Find out when the last day
of class will be and lay that out as well. You may well find that you
have a week or 10 days between the end of classes and the first final,
and then 2-3 days between exams.
20. Use good and relevant sources of law. For example, in studying
Contract Law there will be many references to the Uniform Commercial
Code. You will require a copy of the UCC, with official comments, so
that you can get the law from its source. If there is a reference to
the ?Restatement, Second, of Contracts? get it off its shelf and
become familiar with it in its total context.
So, here is a summary for the first year:
A. Contract Law ? Purchase the UCC with Official Comments and
consider investing in the Student Edition of the Restatement, Second,
Contracts from the American Law Institute: http://www.ali.org/ and
select the student paperbound version. Consider the CD?s such as the
Sum & Substance Series
B. Torts ? Purchase Prosser on Torts for your library. The Sum &
Substance CD?s are a must here.
C. Criminal Law ? Take good notes and make sure that the ?elements?
of the various crimes are well taken down in your notes. The common
law elements are bar exam material.
D. Civil Procedure ? Sum & Substance is wonderful ? you are learning
a foreign language here, what with permissive joinder and limits on
interrogatories. Arthur Miller of TV fame and fortune does the course
and its wonderful. See
It seems that many professors recommend Glannon on Civil Procedure for
a study aid (http://www.aspenpublishers.com/Product.asp?catalog_name=Aspen&category_name=&product_id=073551982X&Mode=SEARCH&ProductType=D&cookie%5Ftest=1
E. Constitutional Law: This is THE MAN: Erwin Chemerinsky!
NOW, if you have any specific questions, PLEASE ask me to
clarification and I will be more than pleased to get back to you.
AND, Good Luck, Counselor!