Wayne State University Law School in Detroit, MI.  This photograph is property of Wayne State University Law School.

This outline is a combination of the speeches given on 8/19/14 and 8/21/14 by Ashley Heidemann to the incoming law students at Wayne State University.  It is posted for the convenience of the students who attended the speech, so that it can be referred back to at a later time. However, it can also serve as good advice to those who were not present at the orientation. 

I. Two Points to Remember Throughout Law School if you Feel Discouraged:

  • You do not need to be the smartest person in your class. Of course, you need to have some level of intelligence to succeed in law school (which you have or you would not be admitted!) but you do not need to be the most intelligent. I wasn’t!  Don’t be intimidated by others and don’t be discouraged if you are called on and don’t know all of the information.
  • You do not need to study the longest hours. You need to put in the hours if you want to succeed in law school but you do not need to make law school your whole life. I didn’t! I took every single Sunday off of studying.

II. Why Academic Success in Law School is Important:

  • It will open up doors and help you to find a career. It is probably the #1 thing you can do to ensure you are employed after law school.
  • It will help you pass the bar exam. (The material you learn in your first year of law school is the most heavily tested on the bar exam).

III. Three Tips on Basic Study Habits:

1. Study Actively and Intensely.

When you study, don’t just passively read (you retain very little that way and it is very easy to zone out). Instead, actively study – this means part of you should be moving! If you’re a visual learner: underline the material, highlight it, draw concept maps, diagrams, pictures. Think up mnemonics. If you’re an auditory learner, repeat information out loud, explain it to others, have others explain it to you; quiz other and have others quiz you. This will ensure that you do not waste time when you study and you can get the same amount done in half the time.

2. Remember who you are and what has brought you success in the past.

This is true in a broad sense: Whatever has gotten you to where you are today will continue to bring you success in the future. If networking got you to where you are today, keep networking. It will continue to bring you success. If your writing abilities brought you success in the past, focus on legal writing in law school – it will continue to bring you success in the future. Just because you are in a new environment does not mean that you need to reinvent the wheel.

This is also true in a more narrow sense in terms of when, where, and how you study.

  • When you study: Are you a morning person, night person, or afternoon person?  Remember who you are and study whenever you study best. Get up earlier if you are a morning person and stay up later if you are a night person. Also, do your most challenging work at your best time. If Legal Writing is your most challenging class and you’re a morning person, do your Legal Writing assignments in the morning.
  • Where you study: Do you like quiet libraries or louder places? You know what works best for you. Don’t try to change who you are in law school.
  • How you study: Take ten minutes and think about how you study best. Are you easily distracted?  Think of three things that distract you, then think of three ways you can eliminate or reduce those distractions ahead of time. This will set you up for success, rather than failure. For example, if you get distracted by your phone, you can turn it off, turn the notifications off, silence it, only look at it once an hour, etc.

3. Take care of yourself

Your brain is part of your body. You need to take care of your body if you want to take care of your brain. This means you should:

  • Eat right. Cook nutritious meals.
  • Sleep.
  • Take breaks. You don’t have to take a full day a week off, but add time into your schedule to not think about law school.
  • Take care of your mental health.
  • Exercise regularly.

Many students worry that adding these activities into their schedule will decrease productivity, but it actually increases productivity. It makes you more efficient when you sit down to study. I used to take every Sunday off and it inspired me to work harder over the week and especially on Saturdays.

IV. Three Ways to Specifically Improve your Law School Grades:

1. Cases

Remember why you read cases. You read cases to learn the law. It is not the details of the cases that you ultimately want to know and have memorized. It’s the details of the law you want to know.

You will want to be familiar with the cases for class so you can follow along and pay attention (and do okay when you are called on!). However, after class is over, there is no reason to obsess over the details. When class is over, pay attention to the details of the law rather than the details of cases.

2. Outlining

Outlining is the process of taking all of the information you learn over the semester and condensing it and organizing it into a document that you can learn from and understand. You will be expected to have an outline for each of your core substantive law school courses.

Why outline? You probably won’t be graded on your outlines or have to hand them in. But you outline because it is the best way to learn the law. Further, some professors allow you to use your outlines on your law school exams.

Tips for outlining:

  • Make your own outlines. You can consult the outlines of others but still make your own. This is how your brain truly learns and internalizes the material.
  • Organize your outlines around legal principals of law, not cases. If you are not sure how to start doing this, look in your syllabus or casebook and see how that is organized.
  • Don’t try to simply use your class notes as an outline. Your class notes are too long and unruly to be an outline.

3. Exams

For the vast majority of your law school courses, you will have one final exam at the end of the semester which (generally) determines 100% of your final grade.

Law school exams consist of fact patterns (which are basically stories) that you will be expected to analyze. A common method that students use to analyze fact patterns is the IRAC method.

  • I = Issue
  • R = Rule
  • A = Analysis
  • C = Conclusion

Because law school exams are different than undergrad exams, make sure to practice exams ahead of time.  Since your final exam will determine 100% of your final grade it is crucial to prepare for it all throughout the semester.