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During the three years I was in law school, I wasn’t shy about letting others know I was a law student. In the course of this self-promotion, I often discussed my solutions for making law school easier or at least more academically tolerable. Now that I’ve finished, why put all that wisdom to waste? Here are five nuggets of advice for today’s law students, particularly those nervous first-years. Let’s be serious: Law school is demanding and law students are very competitive. Making matters worse, law school applications are on the rise, and entering classes are more talented than ever before. Help is on the way. The following suggestions go beyond the obvious (for instance, read your cases) or the scope of common knowledge (e.g., Glannon’s study guide is essential to understanding civil procedure), and can help you even before the semester begins. 1. Make upperclassmen friends. Law students take copious notes, hoping to capture every morsel of information on their laptops or in their notepads. These notes are typically condensed into an outline that can be memorized and referred to with greater ease. These outlines are valuable commodities as they summarize, within a matter of 20 or so pages, a semester’s worth of material. Besides his own notes, a law student should ask for the outlines of his upperclassmen friends who have taken the same course with the same professor. As student-produced outlines are tailored to a specific professor’s topical emphasis or political orientation, they are far more helpful than the commercial outlines that anyone can purchase or which include include doctrines or cases an individual professor doesn’t cover, test, or even agree with. And because student-produced outlines cannot be bought, they are exclusive study materials. The suggestion that outlines are readily handed down between friends cuts against the traditional view that law students do not help each other. To be sure, law students are embarrassingly competitive. Indeed, before an antitrust class during my last semester of law school, I overheard a woman ask a male student for his notes from a previous class. He claimed to the woman — with a straight face — that he doesn’t save his notes. Instead, he said he tore up his notes upon returning home. Upperclassmen, however, are much more likely to give first-year students their outlines for several reasons. First, there is no competition between the upperclassman and the first-year; the donor has already completed that course; he doesn’t care if you benefit from his outline and receive an A. In my antitrust class, of course, the male student had an interest in aiming for the same finite number of A’s as his classmate. Also, upperclassmen possess an aura of superiority from the knowledge and analytical skills they have acquired. Providing a first-year student with an outline is a manifestation of this complex. Not just any upperclassman will provide you with an outline he spent hours perfecting. However, for a friend or acquaintance, he will be more willing to part with his jurisprudential baby. 2. Research the course evaluations. My school, George Washington University Law School, posted every course evaluation on the school’s online information portal. These evaluations had a blank page for students to write about the course or the instructor. Depending on the students’ thoughtfulness, the evaluations may disclose everything from the amount of reading to the expected difficulty of the final exam to the professor’s reliance on the dreaded Socratic method. These revelations are reliable indicators of how easy or hard that course will be. In fact, students often write these evaluations directly to other students — instead of to the intended audience of the professor and the administration — and have explicitly recommended whether or not to take a course. Since students are the authors here, what they write can be brutally honest and entertaining. For instance, one student who was bored complained his professor offered too much “jibber jabber.” 3. Research the grade distributions. While law students are, in the main, interested in the rule of law and lofty virtues such as “justice,” their focus is also more immediate: They care about grades. In addition to posting evaluations, GW listed the grade distributions of each professor — how many A’s, B’s, and so on a professor gave in a previous course. One successful member of my graduating class was notorious for researching the distributions and avoiding the courses in which his chances of receiving a high grade were fewer. The rationale is simple: if a professor gives a B to 90 percent of the class, a student should expect to receive this grade — even before setting foot in the door. 4. Intern for credit. Many law schools, including GW and American University’s Washington College of Law, permit students to get academic credit for working without pay. In offering credit, GW’s “outside placement” and American’s externship programs provide students with an incentive to work for employers — generally government agencies, nonprofit organizations, and public interest firms — that do not or cannot afford to pay interns. These programs are invaluable opportunities. The student receives practical experience to supplement his academic training. He can determine, firsthand, whether a certain practice area or work environment suits him. Working for credit additionally allows the student to enhance his résumé during the fall and spring semesters, when other students usually work only during the summer breaks. Moreover, serving as an intern for three to four months can provide the student with exclusive contacts and a professional network that can come in handy after graduation. Finally, working during the semester lightens the academic load, permitting him to focus more mental energy on fewer courses. 5. Be confident. Being in law school is a tremendous accomplishment. It reflects a student’s previous successes and interest in serving the greater good through the instrument of social control and arbiter of disputes known as the law. Roscoe Pound once wrote that those in the legal profession are “pursuing a learned art as a common calling in the spirit of public service.” Despite the cutthroat nature of law school and the burdens that studying the law impose on one’s personal life and pocketbook, law students should be confident in their abilities and proud of what has led them to this opportunity to serve the public and pursue a career in law. Indeed, remembering this intellectual drive and the noble spirit of our profession can perhaps serve as the most effective tool for succeeding in law school and as a legal practitioner. Dawinder Sidhu is a Washington-area lawyer. He frequently writes on Sikh affairs and equal protection issues, and serves as the political theory editor of the Johns Hopkins Journal of American Politics.

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