Getting ready for law school is much like getting ready for marriage or a baby: nearly everyone who's done it has loads of advice to give, and they look back on their experiences with either fondness or shuddering whispers. It's taken me nearly a year of asking attorneys about law school to keep from plunging into either self-doubt or ballooning overconfidence after every conversation with a Juris Doctor. Law school is what you make of it, I've decided, and I want to enjoy the learning experience as much as possible and not waste my time worrying about all the million things I don't know. Still, I think a good deal of the practical advice I received is worth following, but some of it still doesn't make sense. The following is a list of most common mentionings of law school grads that'll probably make more sense once I'm in the thick of it:
1. Start studying for the final during the first week of classes. In fact, worry more about the final than being prepared for class every day.
This concept blows my mind. I'm so used to class preparation as the very best way to be prepared for finals, as it seems reasonable that a teacher would test students primarily on information at least somewhat linked to classroom discussion. Apparently there is so much material for which law students are accountable that the professor can't hope to cover it all in class.
2. Buy class supplements (the right ones) as soon as possible.
Since when aren't $500 textbooks fat enough to have all the stuff you need to do well on exams? Here, I did a little homework. So law school texts aren't written like traditional textbooks with analytical/historical breakdowns of topics written by the author. From what I understand, the books, at least first year books, are filled with case after case argued at the the highest courts in the land, with very little in the way of explanations or indications of why the case is important or what lines of argument deserve the most study. The point, I believe, is to learn the law by studying how its been interpreted more than simply memorizing statutes, and to learn how to pick out important stuff by...well...reading a lot of stuff and trying to find the important bits. And I guess this is where the supplements come in--they outline what you should be learning from big cases and provide explanations and stuff. But a professor may agree or disagree with what's written in those commercial supplements, or may expect more detailed knowledge on this or that, so either the teacher or his/her past students should know which supplements are best.
3. Be prepared to spend all day and night at school.
This rather unpleasant bit of advice is fairly straightforward, but I've never had to study that much before, so I have a hard time imagining the need to keep a sleeping bag in the library.
I'm curious to see how actually being in law school will change the way I think about the above-mentioned advice. The next few lines are the pieces of advice that I think will be the most important for a guy like me:
1. Try to maintain a balanced lifestyle.
Since I'm really doing this for my family, I think it would be awful of me to ignore them for the next three years in the name of better grades. Besides, I think I'd go nuts without spending time with them--I really do need my dear wife and a daily dose of adorable daughter--and they need me, too. Furthermore, if I don't make myself exercise, study the scriptures, eat healthy foods, and relax once in a while, I'll turn into a fat law zombie that no one will want to hire, anyway.
2. Have fun.
Honestly, if I can't find some way to make learning to think like a lawyer fun, I'm probably in the wrong place. The trick will be to avoid comparing myself to other students (your final grade is determined by how you measure up to your classmates), going to get help often at the study center, meeting with professors, and keeping in school in balance with the rest of my life. I think finding good study buddies will help, too.
3. Stay organized.
I think my wife will have to get me started on the right track here...I'm kind of a mess.
So there you have it. We're T-minus 2 months or so till we start student orientation at Iowa. Meanwhile, I'm enjoying working for a software start-up in downtown Chicago doing pretty stress-free work in a fun office. It's fun carpooling with the CEO and VP of Sales, neighbors of my wife's parents who got me the job, and really great guys.
Next post from Big Papa will probably be about the Alumni/Networking dinner in a few weeks--hobnobbing with U Iowa Law Grads who made it big in Chicago.