« JOTWELL: Steinberg on lawyers and strategic expertise | Main | Number of FAR Forms in First Distribution Over Time - 2016 »

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Advice (and Myths) for 1Ls

I was recently asked to give the faculty welcome to our new 1L students at the University of Utah. I used my time to give them some general advice and perspective about law school. I made them laugh a little, hopefully calmed their nerves, and none of them walked out. So I consider it a success.

If I had had more time, I would have shared some more specific advice that I don’t think is shared very often. I think often law students approach other law students for advice. That is great, but why not us, Prawfs? After all we have not only gone through law school (and done well there), but we have interacted with law students every semester and watched what works and what doesn’t.

So below I share some “myths” of 1L year that I think are commonly heard but misguided, intermixed with some advice.

Law School Myths:

  1. Brief every case for every class carefully for the entire first semester or year.

I disagree. I think briefing cases may be helpful for the first few weeks of law school in understanding how to read a case. But in law school—just like in undergrad—preparing well for class is about listening to the questions your professor asks and being prepared with those answers. Different professors focus on different things in class and it is best to read and try to understand the material and then try to learn what your professor is most interested in when he or she calls on you in class. Rather than spending a lot of time perfecting the reading each day, spend time at the end of each week trying to figure out what legal principles came out of the week and practice applying them.

  1. Join every student group and a journal and moot court and trial advocacy (the more the better) and stick with them throughout law school.

Both of these are really terrible pieces of advice. I think student leadership, journals, moot court, and trial advocacy can all be really great experiences in law school. In fact, some of the best. But I see way too many students becoming over-extended and trying to do ALL of the above. Somewhere they learned that for instance if you do one year of trial advocacy, and then focus on law review for the rest of law school, that that means you are a quitter. I disagree again. I think employers are not the least bit disappointed to see a law student who is focused. It is great to just excel at one thing in law school—whether it be law review, moot court or trial advocacy. The key with these extra activities is the commitment and excellence—so quality, not quantity, is most important.

  1. Study, study, study all day, e’ry day.

Really bad and unsustainable advice. The law semester is around 4 months long. If you are maintaining a “study all day until night ” attitude for this entire time, you will certainly burn out for the time it all really matters. One thing that law students forget is that you have a few grades in law school and usually they come with your final exam (though some professors will have a midterm or a couple papers). The majority of your grade though, will typically come with your final exam, so why not keep a regular study routine through the semester (which I think should include some weekend outline time—maybe a couple of hours) and then step it up during the last few weeks before finals? And yes, during the last three weeks before finals, I think it is stupid not to study, study, study, all day, e’ry day. This is the period where I am really confused when my law students plan weekend trips, take the day to ski or plan student parties. Nope. If you had saved some stamina you should have gotten that fun stuff over with early in the semester and freed your social calendar for studying the last 3-4 weeks of the semester.

  1. Take all of the classes you think sound interesting.

I got this advice and took it to the bank. Very bad idea. Instead of taking some really important bar classes (evidence, criminal procedure, securities, wills and trusts), I chose to take the classes that interested me during law school. I really enjoyed law school and had a great time but I had huge gaps in my knowledge when it came to taking the bar and even with my pro bono work after the bar. The “core” law school classes are core for a reason. Look at the list your law school provides you and try to take at least some of those classes. Honestly, if you barely squeaked into law school and have a low LSAT score (not that anyone else knows that now), I would take as many of the bar classes as you can. You will need every advantage you can get to pass the bar.

  1. Find the easiest professors and take all of their classes

I don’t think this is advice anyone actually tells law students (at least not publicly) but I think they often do it anyway. It is a bad idea. Take classes that challenge you. Take as many writing or drafting classes as you can. Learn corporate finance and intellectual property law and securities regulations. You are paying a lot of money to get a professional degree, which indicates that you have some important skills. Why sell yourself short? Be wise in your selection of non-core classes.

As usual, I would love to hear your thoughts. Do you agree that these are myths? Any other myths or advice for 1Ls?

Posted by Shima Baradaran Baughman on August 18, 2016 at 12:17 PM | Permalink


Shima, I agree that one study isn't conclusive, and there may be ancillary benefits to taking bar courses, such as lowered stress. However, I would note that this is not the only study that has looked at this relationship (although it may be the only published one). At least two of the schools I have worked at have done a similar study and shared the result with faculty only, one a rank not published school and one in the bottom ranked USNWR tier (100-150). At both of these institutions, no significant relationship was found between either number of bar courses taken and bar passage, nor was a subject specific relationship found across the board (i.e. the better you do in X course, the better you do in that subject on the bar). Although there was significance found for certain particular courses, this may or may not be a false positive.

As you say, we do need to think critically about empirical research, and no doubt we would all be better off if more schools shared their similar research. I am sure that other schools have done this same study, but the related file drawer problem and the supposed competitive advantage schools think they have keeps this from happening. I would be curious if this same result holds across all tiers of school, for example, or if the particular courses that seemed to be correlated with bar passage at one school are the same as those at other schools.

Unfortunately, we don't have this information. At the moment, the best evidence we have is that there is little to no relationship. Granted, we should be cautious about making a strong blanket recommendation based on this that people should not take bar courses, but we should be measured in our blanket recommendation the other way as well given what we know.

Posted by: anonandoff | Aug 25, 2016 12:50:04 PM

I am familiar with the study you are talking about regarding taking bar courses and passing the bar. Link is here for those who want to look at it: http://law.bepress.com/expresso/eps/1889/

If you look carefully at this study, it looks at the number of bar classes a student took and whether they passed the bar. The authors determine that for 3/4 of law students (1st, 2nd and 4th quartile students), how many bar courses they took does not significantly impact bar passage rates. I wish there was more considered in this study, including which bar courses a student took before the bar. Because I think some subjects are very difficult to learn in two months of bar study--Evidence being the best example of this kind of course. I also think it is relevant what grade the student got in the bar course. Of course if a student received a D in a bar course, it is unlikely that taking the bar course will advantage that student in preparing for the bar. This study doesn't consider either of these issues and also the one I reference in my post: student stress level. My own person stress level in studying for the bar was heightened because I had taken almost none of the bar courses. I have heard the same complaint from several students. And I don't know if we need a study to demonstrate that high anxiety before the bar is not conducive to passing that exam, or that in general the bar is a mental test as much as an intellectual one.

Finally, as someone who relies on and does empirical work myself, I think we need to think critically about empirical research. This study, I don't think is at all conclusive on the topic and I believe it leads to law professors giving students bad advice year after year that it doesn't matter what bar courses you take.

Posted by: Shima Baughman | Aug 23, 2016 5:30:25 PM

I second both Anon and Rick's comments. I had forgotten about the studies showing that taking bar-tested classes made no difference.

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Aug 23, 2016 5:03:15 PM

I'd also register a "dubitante" on No. 4. Maybe others have much better retention-skills than I do, but I found that I needed to do the bar-prep thing, with pretty much the same diligence, for those subjects on which I'd taken a course and on those for which I hadn't. (That said, maybe the "Roman Law", "Tragic Choices", and "Administering Death" sections of the bar exam would have been harder had I not taken those courses. =-) ).

Posted by: Rick Garnett | Aug 23, 2016 1:46:02 PM

For number 4, while I agree that students need every advantage to pass the bar, from all the studies I have seen at different schools that have looked at the issue is that there is not a strong correlation between taking bar courses and doing well on that course on the bar. While this seems initially surprising, it makes sense given the time difference between bar courses and studying for the bar, as well as the different emphasis law courses have from bar study. I would say that "take a bunch of bar courses if you are struggling" is the bigger myth.

Posted by: anonandoff | Aug 22, 2016 5:58:41 PM

I would agree only about 50% as to # 4. I continue to believe that law is (or should be) something like a liberal arts field, in which students learn some areas because knowledge is good, even if it will not come into play on the Bar or in their practice.

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Aug 19, 2016 5:44:11 PM

The comments to this entry are closed.