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We just took three nine-year-old girls to see the new film “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.” The movie was a gem, and children and adults in the audience were all spellbound. Among its many delights, the movie provided a very clever commentary on the mystification of schooling. The children in the movie are wide-eyed beginners, both wise beyond their years and full of wonder. The job before them is learning the unlearnable, and the audience is invited to accompany them as they emerge triumphant from one mysterious challenge after another. I could not help thinking that the alchemy of the Hogwarts education had a universal ring. While riding brooms and brewing potions and casting spells seems far removed from reading cases and writing law school memoranda, the experience is not entirely dissimilar. Most students enter law school with great excitement and little preparation for what lies ahead. Entering students submit themselves to a magical conversion process fueled by the thrill of becoming a real life lawyer. This goal is energizing during the first ten or twelve weeks of fall semester, and then suddenly — like a plot point in a movie — reality hits. The course reading increases exponentially as professors speed up to cover the semester’s material. The final assignment in legal research and writing requires endless revisions. Practice exams are handed back and the results are disappointing. Interactions with fellow students become more competitive. Students are bewildered about how to handle final exams. The skills that got you into law school now turn out to be unsuitable or inefficient, and there just isn’t enough time in the day to get yourself ready for final exams. As the Hogwarts faculty knew so well, learning is simply experience molded by knowledge. To the extent that anyone can enlighten you about the mysteries of success in law school, here are some suggestions. They don’t have the lustre of a Harry Potter plot, but they may help to offset problems: 1. Outline legal principles from each course. This is a very good thing if done correctly. Otherwise it is a waste of effort. Course outlining is about mastering legal concepts and rules. You have been reading cases all semester, but they are merely a means for understanding this material, not an end — English majors, forget about the stories. Cases illustrate the application or development of the rules but a course outline should never be just a collection of case briefs. Outlining requires you to review, synthesize, and state concisely in your own words the legal principles in the material. When you write exam answers, your course outline provides the concepts and rules that you need to analyze the new fact pattern. To build an outline, I tell students to review cases and notes for each week of the course and to identify in a sentence or two the concept(s) that those cases illustrate for each week such as promissory estoppel, modification, damages and the like. Then list the rules that pertain to each concept. Cases demonstrate the application or development of the rules but a course outline should never be just a collection of case briefs. If you are lucky enough to have a course syllabus, it will help you. Otherwise, follow the Table of Contents of your case book or the subjects of your lecture notes. If the material does not seem to fit together properly, use a commercial outline to help you cultivate an overview. 2. Write practice exams like crazy. Most law school exams consist of two or three one-hour essay questions, depending on the units of the course. These days, more instructors are using multiple choice questions as well. But my comments are limited to essay exams. Last week I asked my second- and third-year teaching assistants to tell my first-year students at Hastings the single best way to prepare for exams. All three TAs chorused, “Write practice exams!” You can’t learn it until you do it. Practice exams expose you to the way facts can be used to illustrate legal significance. They force you to review the law, to recall the rules, to organize your thoughts, to engage in concise legal analysis, to trim the fat, and to use active learning skills. They challenge your memory, comprehension, and time management skills. It is useless to sit around in a study group discussing the fine points of a lecture or treatise. You won’t have time for this kind of treatment in a one-hour essay answer. Emphasize coverage rather than depth and do as many practice exams as possible under real-time conditions. Explore every source for practice essay exams. Use your instructor’s old exams if they are available — many schools also keep student model answers, which are realistic and instructive. Old exams are on file in binders or online. Some commercial websites have large collections of old exams and answers from different law schools. Old bar exam questions are excellent, although to my knowledge no state bar publishes model answers. There are good exam materials in the law school bookstore too, although students sometimes complain that the model essay answers are intimidating — no student could write such a detailed answer in one hour. A major pitfall of sample essay exams is that the fact patterns may include issues that your professor did not include, and you don’t want to waste your time unwittingly on something that hasn’t been covered. I tell students to outline the answers to commercial questions so that you know quickly whether they are a “good fit” with your course. 3. Don’t ignore multiple choice or short answer questions. Believe it or not, multiple choice questions are a great way to practice for essay exams! Each fact pattern is comparable to a single-issue essay question. They help you to spot issues and they make you think hard in a short time. Multiple choice and short answer questions offer quick-hit exposure to a wide range of facts and law. Although law schools do not keep multiple choice questions on file, there are commercial materials in your bookstore. Watch out though — bar exam multiple-choice materials may be too difficult for first-year students. 4. Other study aids. I am not a big fan of flash cards, audiotapes, or videotapes, but many people love them. Try to borrow before you buy so you are sure they are helpful. If you are in the car a great deal, audiotapes can be particularly useful. 5. Hone your exam writing skills. � Always outline your answer before you write. Devote 15 to 20 minutes of a one-hour answer to this step. This is your crucial opportunity to organize and test your reasoning. I have read far too many bad bluebooks in my career, and nothing is worse than a muddled answer that begins with some random issue, lays out any rule that seems relevant, and goes nowhere. � Use lots of headings and paragraphs. Headings are essential to signpost the reader through the logic of your analysis. Short paragraphs are much better than monotonous text. Rule of thumb: one thought per paragraph. Skip lines. Write on one side of the page only. Underline key terms if you can keep it up throughout. � IRAC. Everyone knows this acronym, but I will repeat it for the unlikely reader who has not been privy to this golden rule. IRAC stands for Issue, Rule, Analysis or Application, and Conclusion. IRAC each issue separately — the worst answers are the ones where students attempt to squeeze everything into one big IRAC. For each IRAC, try the following: Issue. Capture the issue in your heading or topic sentence. Pose it as a question. It should contain facts and law. Example: Did Ken make an enforceable offer when he told his sister Sally that she could have his new car as a reward for work she had done years earlier? Rule: Reach back into your outline (literally or from memory) for the relevant rule. Make it as narrow as possible. Example: An offer is not binding in the absence of present consideration. The majority rule is that past consideration does not bind an offer. (California provides a statutory exception.) Analysis. In Torts and Criminal Law, use the elements of the rule as the outline for your analysis. Apply the law in the rule to the facts of the hypothetical. Try to use every fact possible. Don’t sweep the ambiguities under the rug — they are the name of the game, not an obstacle! The professor is testing your ability to suggest different interpretations, and you will lose points if you are one-sided. Divide your analysis into subsections if necessary. Avoid conclusory statements by explaining why you make a contention — the word “because” should appear in almost every sentence in the analysis sections of your answer. Alternatively stated, provide the position of both the plaintiff and the defendant. Example: Ken will argue that his offer was made in appreciation of Sally’s past conduct and was not binding because there was no real-time bargained-for exchange. Sally will counter that it is never too late to reward a good deed. Unless Sally relied on Ken’s offer in a manner that was reasonable and foreseeable to both parties at the time the offer was made, Sally will not be entitled to enforce the offer or to receive reliance damages. Conclusion. As long as the conclusion follows logically from your analysis, this section bears little weight in a Torts or Criminal Law exam. In a Contracts, Property, or Civil Procedure Exam, the conclusion may affect the next issue you discuss. If you outline properly, the logic should shine through. 6. One last tip. The end of the first semester is stressful. In addition to everything else, people are starting to talk about summer plans, which adds another layer of concern for some people. If your moods, eating, sleeping, or personal life seem to be going out of whack, pay attention and confide in someone who can help. Do what you can to stabilize your routine. For some, working harder is the best antidote to the blues. Others need a break. Anxiety can interfere with everything, so do what you can to keep it under control so that you can do the best job possible. Good luck!

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