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There are prep courses to help you get into law school and prep courses to help you pass the bar when you graduate. Now there’s one for boosting your performance in law school itself. Stressing the importance of first-year grades in the competition for judicial clerkships, summer associate programs and law review editorships, two companies are offering five-day programs taught by faculty from top law schools like Yale, Northwestern and the University of Chicago. For about $1,200, students receive practical advice on exam-taking, time management, case briefing and outline preparation and provide an introduction to first-year core subjects like torts, contracts and civil procedure. “With the amount of money students are investing in their education, why wouldn’t you want to take a review of each of your first year subjects?” says Donald Macaulay, president of course-provider Law Preview, of Mount Kisco, N.Y. “For students, reading case law in a vacuum is very frustrating if they don’t see the big picture.” Law Preview and its main competitor, BAR/BRI-NILE’s Law School Prep Program, say they have the majority of the market, though there are Internet-based programs and those run by law schools. This year, Law Preview enrolled around 1,000 students in 10 major cities. That included 56 New Jersey residents, though the course is not offered in New Jersey. The NILE program, purchased five years ago by the Chicago-based BAR/BRI, a unit of The Thomson Corp., enrolled about 3,000 students this year. That includes 35 at a session last week at Seton Hall, its first in the state. Administrators at New Jersey’s three law schools say they do not keep count of how many students take such classes, although they believe the numbers are small. Among the Seton Hall students who have taken the course is Paul da Costa, who heard Law Preview’s sales pitch while an undergraduate at Rutgers College. “I thought [I'd try] anything I could do to get a leg up,” says da Costa. Da Costa’s classmate, John Falzone, opted not to take the course because professors cover the same subject matter at orientation. “I’d rather hear it from the mouths of the people who are going to give me grades,” says Falzone, who graduated from Seton Hall Law along with da Costa on June 2. Yet, local professors are now among those teaching the prep courses. BAR/BRI-NILE’s faculty includes Seton Hall’s Paula Franzese and John Kip Cornwell, and Law Preview’s teachers include Jay Feinman, of Rutgers Law School-Camden. While Law Preview has been around for five years and the BAR/BRI program for 15, the concept is still unfamiliar to many legal educators. Feinman, for one, admits he never heard of a prep course until he started teaching it three years ago. Many BAR/BRI faculty initially were skeptical about the law school prep concept, says Paul Lisnek, who runs the program. Skeptics usually are won over by students’ increased confidence after completing the program, says Lisnek, a former assistant dean of the Loyola University Chicago School of Law. Rayman Solomon, dean of Rutgers Law School-Camden, says he’s not aware of research on the effectiveness of law school prep courses. He sees no harm in the courses, though, calling them “a security blanket” that may make self-doubters feel better. But skepticism remains. “I think these courses prey on students’ fears about their performance in the first year of law school and their anxieties about the importance of the first year,” says Gregory Mark, a professor at Rutgers Law School-Newark. “But there is no magic key or formula to how to do well in law school or how to be a good lawyer,” Mark says, adding it’s rare for students to fail for lack of guidance on practical aspects of studying the law. Macaulay, of Law Preview, says his program encourages students to think about the subject matter. While undergraduates are rewarded when they “regurgitate the professor’s words and what you’ve learned, in law school the professor assumes you’ve learned the law and know the rules, and now wants to see you apply the rules,” he says. However, da Costa says Law Preview had a somewhat deleterious effect. Following the course’s strict methods on compiling detailed course outlines took up time and energy. Bottom line: his first-semester grades were in the middle of the class. In his second semester, he says he spent less time on writing outlines but used some from previous students, and his grades improved. “I regret sticking to all their proscriptions,” says da Costa. “When you’re doing your own outlines, you’re not studying material but you’re focused on making the outline.” Falzone, his friend, agrees that law school requires a flexible approach. Falzone’s strategy apparently worked; he was editor-in-chief of the Seton Hall Law Review for 2002-03 and is about to begin a clerkship with New Jersey Supreme Court Justice Barry Albin. “You have to find out what works for you,” Falzone says. “I can’t even count the number of different approaches I’ve taken since I’ve been here.” Robert Dakis adopted a similarly flexible approach while taking the BAR/BRI-NILE course. “I don’t do everything the prep program tells you to do. It provides you with a template that you can adapt your own personality and style to,” says Dakis, a third-year Seton Hall student. Dakis says his grades have been in “the very top of the class” and appreciates the program’s test-taking advice. “It gave me ideas and tips and ways to do things I wouldn’t have thought how to do. I would recommend it to anyone,” says Dakis. At Sills, Cummis, Radin, Tischman, Epstein & Gross, hiring partner Robert Max Crane interviews dozens of law students but none has owned up to taking a law school prep course. He says such a disclosure wouldn’t hurt the applicant. Crane thinks such courses could be “of some marginal benefit” but he would not recommend one for his own son or daughter. “If my kid was reasonably well-prepared in college and knew how to write and think, I’d say go without it. But I understand if people want to get a leg up. If it makes you feel better, why not?”

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