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Let’s face it. Startup of spring semester of the first year of law school is the pits. Last semester you worked harder than you ever worked in your life. You survived the initial shock of learning to think like a lawyer, you started to reason and write in the legal vernacular, and you actually began to enjoy mastering those new skills — and occasionally even showcasing them. You endured final exams and dragged yourself home at semester break, where you recuperated from the stress by eating regular meals, sleeping regular hours, feeling loved and appreciated, and avoiding competition for anything more strenuous than The New York Times crossword puzzle. You read papers and magazines and went to movies and never cracked a law book. You remembered that your mother was right: You are smart and wonderful. Confidence restored, you now return for your second semester. The hazing is behind you, and you are ready to assume your rightful position as a full-fledged law student. After all, Reese Witherspoon emerged victorious in “Legally Blonde,” did she not? And she was supposed to be an airhead, was she not? (The fact that she was so convincing in the role is the subject of a different column on evidentiary presumptions.) With theme music drumming in the background, you fly up the steps of the law school flush with reborn faith. And then, in a reversal of fortune worthy of the silver screen, the enemy is unmasked. You discover your grades. Your newly restored ego crumbles. How could this be? Your grades are mediocre if not downright miserable. You studied so hard, memorized your outlines, reread every case, pored over your lecture notes, never missed a meeting of your study group, pulled all-nighters for each exam. But your grades look as if you went AWOL during the reading period and wandered into your exams from the street. What happened? As an experienced teacher of first-year students, I can offer some observations. Although it is very little comfort, this kind of disappointment is fairly universal. I always stock my office with Kleenex during the month of January, and keeping up morale in my second semester spring classes can be almost impossible. First, there are few, if any, superstars in law school. Because there just isn’t enough time at the end of the semester to prepare fully for final exams, and because preparation is so inefficient at this early stage of your legal education, people who do extremely well in one course usually sacrifice others. Don’t be snowed by the tales of success that you overhear in the halls or the elevator. Everyone suffered some kind of disappointment. Second, some people need to sit for a set of exams to learn what they must do to succeed. The first set of exams helps you identify your weaknesses and strengths. Some of your grades are first-semester “pencil grades” or advisory grades and won’t even appear on your transcript. You have the chance to redeem such grades when you take the spring exam in the course. Some of your grades are transcripted and, unfortunately, those have to be chalked up to the learning experience. But they tend to play a small role in your overall academic performance. If you take an advanced course in the same or similar topic in the future, you will have the opportunity to demonstrate a better performance. Here is what to do to improve your academic performance next semester. � Deal with your disappointment. Don’t try to ignore or deny your reaction to your grades; it will come back to bite you. Find someone with whom you can vent, and work it through as best you can. � Read the model answers or best student answers for each fall exam as soon as they are available in the law library or online. Compare your answers. Did you miss issues? Misread the question? Neglect to outline? Mess up on time management? Produce a one-sided or rambling analysis? Repeat the facts and omit the law? Sacrifice coverage by focusing on one small issue at the expense of others? The list is endless. � Do practice exams throughout the semester. Law school exams are about application of the law, not regurgitation. Rereading cases and lecture notes is time-consuming and not particularly productive. Use study time to do practice questions and answers from commercial sources or materials on file at the law school. � Do multiple-choice questions. Even if your professor does not plan to use multiple-choice questions in the spring, these offer a quick way to assess your grasp of lots of different legal issues, rules, exceptions and defenses. � Make sure your course outline is based on legal concepts, not cases. The best course outline is organized in a manner that helps you structure your answers on the final exam. It should be arranged according to key legal principles and should not necessarily follow the order of the course syllabus or the table of contents of the case book, although both are instructive. � Reassess your study group participation. Did you spend too much precious time chatting about personal matters or rehashing class lectures and too little time doing practice exams? Were group members competitive or cooperative? Were the logistical hassles worth it? Although I do not recommend studying alone, you may do better with a single study buddy or even a one-on-one tutor. � Use your law school’s academic support resources. Don’t be proud and foolish. Academic support provides group or individual counseling, and it can really cut through the fog. Academic support staff have seen it all. They have the expertise and understanding. They know the best tutoring methods and materials. Take advantage of them — your tuition dollar is already paying for these wonderful programs. � Calm down. Success in law school involves no great mysteries. One easy trick is to be sure you really know what you are studying in class. Can you state the current course topic to the mirror in a sentence or two? In the fourth week last semester, I asked the students in my Contracts Drafting class what we were studying. Everyone’s face shut down. Finally, one student suggested — with great uncertainty — that we seemed to be studying whether and when promises were enforceable. I was taken aback by the confusion over this simple question until I recalled how anxiety cancelled clarity in my own first year of law school. � Keep your focus. Legal education is about learning, not just about achieving. The course that teaches you the most may be the course where your performance is least impressive. The practice of law is a lifelong education, with a steady stream of successes and setbacks. For better or worse, you have to prepare for the roller coaster ride that typifies the legal profession. In sum, the second semester of law school is the most challenging. You know enough to self-assess, but not enough to guarantee success. Moot Court presents an additional draw on your time, although many students find it to be a wonderful antidote to their insecurity in doctrinal courses. Change your habits and approach to studying if necessary, and set manageable goals. Don’t overwhelm yourself and don’t lose heart. As a fallback, remember the time-honored mathematical formula, C = J.D. You are going to be just fine. Lois Schwartz is an adjunct professor at Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco and an adjunct instructor at the University of California, Berkeley’s Boalt Hall School of Law.

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