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TDot’s Tips: More Final Exam Advice

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Nov 30, 2010 in TDot's Tips

Good evening y’all! :D

Let me preface this entry by giving a quick shout-out to the folks at FAMU Law down in Orlando, one of the ~40 historically black public institutions in the country alongside NCCU. I was told earlier today that some 1Ls down there found some helpful information here at law:/dev/null and I just wanted to thank y’all for reading! There’s no higher praise I can get than someone liking what I’ve written :)

Today was Reading Day at NCCU Law and final exams start for our 1Ls tomorrow morning with Property I. So it seemed like a timely opportunity to point the 1Ls back to a handful of final exam tips I wrote back in December, along with some recent additions I added in October :angel:

There are so many blawgs with so many exam tips that I don’t want to pile on more beyond what’s already out there — after all, you should be learning rules of law instead of this random 2L’s suggestions on how to do better at exams.

But I also had a few more ideas that I’m also using myself, and I figured it’d be selfish of me not to share. So take this with the requisite grains of salt, your mileage may vary, there are no express or implied warranties of any kind that any of this will actually help your exam grades, etc etc etc ;)

  1. Do as many practice multiples as you can get your hands on. I’ve been banging the “do more multiples!” drum pretty zealously every time I talk about exams, because (for some reason that escapes me) I still have folks swear to me that it’s a misapplication of time and energy :crack:  Y’all, please just trust the computer scientist on this one: your multiple choice questions are more important than your essays. Multiple choice questions have finite answer options that are objectively either right or wrong. If the answer for a question is A, bubbling in “A” on a Scantron is the only way to get points for that question. It’s objective. There’s no room for interpretation. That means multiples can’t be curved. If your law school grades on a curve, for example like the strict-C curve we use at NCCU Law, the professors have to find some subjective way to sort your grades — and since multiples can’t be curved, that subjectivity has to happen on the essays. In other words, no matter how stellar you do on your exam essays, for that portion of the exam you are inevitably at the mercy of your classmates. (Cue the :surprised:  looks.) If you do well, but everyone else does well too, that makes you average; the professors will then start looking for über-nitpicky justifications to shave a point here, a point there, etc. On the other hand, with multiples you stand on your own; you either got them right, or you didn’t. A student with a stellar essay score and a barely-passing multiples score isn’t going to do very well, but a student with a perfect score on the multiples and a less-than-stellar essay can ride the curve to a decent grade.
  2. Start exploiting your bar prep company now. I can’t speak competently about Kaplan’s PMBR because I don’t use them, but I signed up for Thomson Reuters’ BarBri my 1L year and I’m in the process of paying $$$$$ to take their bar review course after I graduate. Not only does BarBri provide a huge “First Year Review” book to 1Ls, they have free practice tests online with their “StudySmart Law School” web application — an app that has more multiple choice questions than you can shake a stick at, and a timer to go with it. I don’t remember if I had as much access to this stuff as I had last year, but right now I can take practice exams on CivPro, ConLaw, Ks, CrimLaw, Evidence, Property, and Torts. You’re already paying money to these folks to provide you with a service, why not start using it now? ;)
  3. See if any 2Ls/3Ls will let you look at their old essays. Just about everyone you ever talk to will tell you to find old tests to practice on, but that doesn’t do you much good if the test is really old or your professor isn’t available to offer their $.02 on your practice work. If you’ve already attached yourself to a 2L for their textbooks and happen to have the professor they had last year, see if they have their old graded essays and would be willing to let you look at them. It will give you a sense of how someone did in your shoes, and if the professor provided any useful commentary on the essay it will also provide some insight into what that particular professor might be looking for in an answer. Your hypo is going to be different of course, but every little bit of insight helps. As an example, for NCCU Law 1Ls the Traveling Professor likes having every single possible detail thrown in about the tested area of law in her Property essays; MDG, by contrast, takes off points if you mention extraneous CivPro law that doesn’t actually apply in his particular hypos.
  4. Visit Academic Support. I never went to our Academic Support office last year, because I routinely fled the law school as soon as class was over to escape the high-stress super-Type A personalities roaming the halls.1 Over the past week I’ve been in there more than all of last year as I was trying to snag this CrimLaw tutor gig…  and I just now realized these folks have scads of supplements, flash cards, practice tests, and all sorts of other stuff to help you pass your classes :eek:  I guess in my mind I really already knew that, but it didn’t really “click” until seeing all of it there in front of my eyes. Definitely pay a visit to Academic Support and use the tools they have available for you (especially since you’re already paying for it).
  5. Pace yourself. You’re going to hear the saying “law school is a marathon and not a sprint” at least a half-dozen times between now and when you graduate. That applies to exams too. Definitely study aggressively, practice frequently, and so on and so forth. But also make sure you take time to relax, sleep, get out of your apartment (or study carrel), exercise, bathe, waste time on Facebook, or whatever else you do in your free time to stay sane. If you’ve got 48 hours of potential study time between now and your next exam, there’s no harm with using 16 of them for sleep and taking an hour or two of the 32 left to relax. You’ll be happier for it, and more inclined to remember the stuff that you studied :spin:

This entry’s running a bit long so I’ll cap it here, but I hope it helps! Make sure to read through the other tips too — and GOOD LUCK! :D

—===—

Past TDot’s Tips entries:

  1. Apparently prompting some people to think I looked down on them… []

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TDot’s Tips: 1L Midterms “Quick Hits” Edition

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Oct 11, 2010 in TDot's Tips

This entry is devoted primarily to my 1L colleagues at the N.C. Central University School of Law, so if you’re not a Legal Eagle you can probably skip it :)

And if you’re not a 1L you can definitely skip it ;)

I also planned on making this a longer and more-detailed entry, but I didn’t realize the midterm schedule got switched up this year: instead of 2 days of regular class followed by double-stacked exams on Wednesday and Thursday, 1Ls this year get one midterm a day at 8:00am :surprised:

So with CivPro behind y’all and most of you asleep already heading into Ks tomorrow, here’s a few quick points to keep in mind:

  1. Get the 1L Stuff. If you haven’t already, make sure to download the 1L Stuff ZIP archive I put online for y’all. This is basically a collection of every 1L outline and brief I could get my hands on last year; it includes everything from the 1L folder folks pass around, along with stuff other folks gave me. There are probably quite a few duplicate files, but there’s also a wide breadth of outlines to study from1 :)
  2. Focus on the multiple choice. We use a strict-C curve at NCCU Law, which means (i) the median grade has to be a C2 and (ii) professors usually have to use some kind of subjective criteria to ensure that distribution. That subjective component is unavoidably your essay, since multiple choice answers are either right or wrong. And because it’s subjective it means a stellar essay may not net you as many points (comparatively speaking) if everyone else in the class does well on the essay too. So if you can ace the multiple choice, you’ll have a significant advantage before your professor even grabs your essay for grading.
  3. Watch the clock. Hopefully you’ve read the Final Exam tips and you’re knocking out the multiple choice questions first. If you’re not — or if the multiples seem to be taking longer than you think they should — make sure to keep checking the clock sporadically so you know how much time you have left. Otherwise you’ll end up like me on my CivPro II final :beatup:
  4. Sleep! For some unknown reason, 1Ls seem to think law school is like college and all-nighters are an effective way to do test prep. Don’t do it! You need to be able to decipher complex hypos on the multiple choice, spot the issues in an even longer hypo for the essay(s), and write coherently about it as well. You’re only going to be able to do that on a decent night’s sleep, and ideally a good breakfast before you head to the test.
  5. Read the Final Exam tips too. The same stuff I mentioned then applies to midterms too ;)

Oh, and be prepared to not get your grades until the end of the month :beatup:

That’s it from me y’all — GOOD LUCK on your exams!! :D

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Past TDot’s Tips entries:

  1. And if you happen to be a Mac user like me, having this folder indexed by Spotlight makes it easy to pull up case briefs on the fly later in the semester ;) []
  2. See the bar graphs in some of the older grade-related entries for distributions from my 1L year. []

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TDot’s Tips: Highlight the headnotes

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Sep 9, 2010 in TDot's Tips

Greetings from ConLaw! :D

Now some of our longer-term readers might be wondering “What on earth is TDot doing writing a blog entry during his self-professed favoritest class evah?” — to which I’d reply “That’s a very good question!”

The truth is… I’m not :beatup: This was/is the almost-finished TDot’s Tips entry I mentioned yesterday, but given how ConLaw has gone today I figured it was a serendipitous time to post the post ;)

Specifically, I’m surprised by how many of my classmates at NCCU Law — and law students I’ve talked with at other schools too — deeply and truly hate Constitutional Law!1 :surprised:  The most common complaint I’ve heard is that it’s tough to wade through the SCOTUS-ese to find “the law” when reading cases in our (newly-issued and highlight-free) books, particularly the opinions from the Court’s early years.

It’d be a legit complaint… if “the law” wasn’t already spelled out for us :P

Maybe it’s a 2L version of “getting stuck on the dot“, but folks seem to forget that LexisNexis and WestLaw make everything easy by providing headnotes for each case. This is “the law”2  — and should be one of the things you highlight any time you’re reading an unhighlighted law school text :)

For me, studying for a class where I’ve been assigned casebook readings is a 4-part process:

1) Read the case. This one (hopefully) is obvious, but you need to actually read a case to get a real understanding of it. It’s easy to grab a LegaLines supplement or pre-cooked case brief and go from there, but odds are good the summaries you read will miss some of the important nuance in every opinion. Besides, some of the facts are just plain crazy and worth reading on their own :D

Some headnotes from LexisNexis

2) Highlight the law, a.k.a. the Wexis headnotes. WestLaw and LexisNexis both make oodles and oodles of money off law firms that use their services, so they use an oodle or two to make attorney life easier by extracting the main parts of the holding and throwing them into the headnotes. After you’ve read the case, pull it up online using your unlimited-access law student account, and go through each headnote and highlight it in the book. Now if a professor ever asks “What’s the take-home point in this opinion?” your eyes will naturally spot the highlighted section(s) of the opinion.

3) Highlight the loopholes, a.k.a. the legally significant facts. There’s an old lawyer’s adage that if the law is on your side you argue the law, and if the facts are on your side you argue the facts.3 Every court opinion is issued in response to an underlying case, and every underlying case is composed of key facts that led the court to its conclusions. You need to recognize what those key facts are so you can either harmonize or distinguish your case’s facts with those a court has already considered.

4) Put the holding in “normal people” terms. Judges aren’t normal people. Period. It’s like folks who voluntary spend their professional lives doing taxes — sure it might be an important job, but let’s not pretend like it’s a “normal” interest.4 And since judges aren’t normal people, they don’t write like normal people. And since they don’t write like normal people, it’s easy to get lost in the thicket of legalese that comprises judicial opinions. Fix that problem by writing a few notes to yourself about the court’s holding in regular terms.

For example, there’s a lot of talk about “nexuses” in Flast v. Cohen, 392 U.S. 83 (1968). This is the rhetorical description the Supreme Court decided to use in explaining its opinion, and if you focus on that (obtuse) language you may end up missing the point of the holding — that generally taxpayers can’t file suit in their capacity as taxpayers to challenge Congressional spending (nexus #1) , except in the narrow exception where it involves a purported violation of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause (nexus #2).

***

My process for reading a case probably isn’t the most efficient or even the best use of your time, so take this with the normal disclaimer that your mileage may very. It’s worked out phenomenally for me though, so hopefully you might get some use out of it too :)

Have a great night y’all! :D

—===—

Past TDot’s Tips entries:

  1. This is the foundational cornerstone stuff to our entire legal system here in the U.S., how can any aspiring lawyer not like it?? :crack: []
  2. Disclaimer: it’s actually an ever-so-slightly generalized version of the law — never quote a headnote directly in a brief, and instead quote the court’s own language ;) []
  3. The adage continues: And if neither is on your side, you malign the opposition :beatup: []
  4. When was the last time you heard a 3rd grader say he wanted to become a tax attorney when he grew up? Exactly ;) []

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TDot’s Tips: Tighten up your digital life

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Jul 16, 2010 in TDot's Tips

Hey everybody :)

Today was another mediation day in court as part of my volunteer work with the ADR Clinic at NCCU Law. My co-mediator and I only had two cases, but they both involved actions seeking protective orders to prevent one party from contacting the other.  The first case involved a lady being harassed by one (or more) of her fiancé’s ex-girlfriends, including being the target of a fake Facebook profile, a fake profile on some dating site, and so on.

The lady being harassed was justifiably upset, and had initiated a criminal investigation along with bringing every piece of documentation she had to the court hearing. But the ex-girlfriend accused of doing the harassment was adamant that she wasn’t involved at all — claiming that in fact another ex-girlfriend was impersonating her.1 :crack:

The whole hearing was filled with talk of IP addresses, passwords, email accounts and other Computer Science-y stuff.2 I’m convinced they were both being less-than-honest, but at least they got this particular issue resolved for now.

But given how much of our lives are now online, and how trivially simple it is to compromise our digital security, I thought I’d share a handful of easy tips to help you tighten up your digital life :)

Quick disclaimer: In computing, there’s no such thing as “total” security. Everything can be hacked with enough time, ingenuity, and computational effort — and anyone who tells you otherwise is lying to you ;) Your objective as a user is just to make sure that the time / ingenuity / effort that would have to be spent to compromise your security is worth more to the attacker than the value of what you’re securing.

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1) STRENGTHEN YOUR PASSWORDS
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Passwords are so ubiquitous online that even non-tech-savvy computer users often have several of them. The problem is that we have so many passwords on so many sites that they’re almost impossible to remember without making them simple, which also makes them easy to compromise.

There are a variety of ways hackers try to break passwords. “Dictionary” attacks use regular words as password guesses. “Brute force” attacks try every possible password combination. “Rainbow tables” are used to try and crack encrypted passwords. The list goes on.

You can limit the success of these attacks by making some really simple changes:

  • The longer a password, the better the security. This makes intuitive sense to most people but you’d be surprised by how many folks have passwords of only 6-8 characters. Your password should ideally be twice that long or more, which in turn requires far more effort on the part of hackers to figure it out.
  • NEVER use regular words in your password. Remember those “dictionary” attacks I mentioned? They use dictionaries of common words/names/places (often coupled with numbers) to guess a password. If you’ve only got regular words as your password, odds are good it will be compromised.
  • Use all available character sets. If you’re a user of the Latin alphabet (ISO 8859-1) you typically have 4 groups of characters you can use in fashioning a password: lower-case letters a-z, upper-case letters A-Z, numbers 0-9, and symbols like $ and @. The vast majority of passwords only use one or two of these groups, and that makes them much easier to hack. For example, someone with the 8-character password “thomas08” is only using two groups, so a cracking program only needs to try at most 2.1 billion possible combinations before guessing it correctly (since there are 26+10 possibilities for each character and therefore 36^8 possible passwords). That seems like a lot, but a typical brute force attack using just one computer can guess 30 million passwords every minute. So in the very best case scenario, where the password only gets figured out on the very last guess, this password will be cracked in a little over two months. But slightly tweaking that password to something like “tHom@s08” makes it far more difficult: now all four character groups are used and there are 94 possible options for each character in the password (26 lower-case, 26 upper-case, 10 numbers, 32 symbols) so a hacker needs to try over six quadrillion combinations (94^8 possibilities) — or guessing 30M passwords a minute for roughly 386 years.
  • Don’t re-use passwords across multiple sites. This common-sense principle is also frequently ignored. Password security not only depends on the strength of your password but also the strength of protection used on the website storing it. If something happens where Facebook or Google get hacked and your password is compromised, far more damage can result if you use that same password at other sites. Whenever possible, use a different password at every site you access to limit the problems caused by a security breach.

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2) TURN OFF UNUSED SERVICES
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Computers are useful even when they’re disconnected from the rest of the world, but the really fun stuff only happens when computers talk to each other. Accessing websites, sharing files, using Bluetooth accessories — each of these options uses a different “service” on your computer, basically opening a tunnel to the outside world through which other computers can communicate with your own.

If you’re not using a specific service, but the service is still turned on, it’s basically the equivalent of leaving a door to your house wide open. Someone may not come in and steal anything… but why take the chance? :P

Turn off all network services you’re not going to use. The exact details of how to turn things off varies greatly depending on your operating system so I’ll skip detailing it here, but a quick Google search on “turn off unused services” will get you results on how to turn things off in Windows XP, Windows Vista, MacOS X and more.

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3) BOOST YOUR WI-FI ENCRYPTION
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Wireless communication is rapidly replacing wired networks as the preferred choice for home and corporate users. Wi-fi networks provide far more flexibility in terms of how and where we can use a network, but it comes with a significant security tradeoff: electronic eavesdropping by hackers using readily-available software.

To limit the impact of eavesdropping, encryption algorithms have been developed to secure the data being broadcast over a wi-fi network. Unfortunately some of the most widely used algorithms — specifically Wired Equivalent Privacy (or WEP) — are also the weakest. The WEP algorithm is often the first choice presented to a user setting up his/her home router, even though it has been deprecated by the IEEE because it is inherently insecure. Any WEP-protected network can be compromised in 5 minutes or less with publicly-available software :surprised:

And once someone has access to the unencrypted contents of your wi-fi network, they get to see everything being transmitted by your computer (including websites, passwords, account numbers, and so on).

If at all possible, you should be using at least WPA2 security with a key that follows the same strong-password techniques I mentioned in #1 above. Even the most-secure WPA2 network can be compromised, but it will take so much time/effort that all but the most-determined hackers won’t bother to try.

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4) FACEBOOK: LOCK DOWN YOUR PROFILE WITH LISTS
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Despite all the outrage regularly heaped on Facebook (not without justification) the social network site deserves some credit for at least trying to have a robust privacy architecture. In addition to being able to restrict access to “Friends” or “Friends of Friends” or “Everyone”, you can also create lists to include whoever you designate — and these lists can, in turn, be used to limit access to parts of your profile.

For example, if you’ve got “friends” on Facebook who you don’t know that well, you can create a list like “People I Don’t Know”, put those folks on it, and then change your privacy settings so no one on that list can see things like your wall or your date of birth or your photo albums.

The reverse also works well: you can block access to sensitive info for everybody (like employers ;) ) and then allow access to selected lists with bona fide friends on them.

The whole process can be tedious and time-consuming, but can be a great help in protecting your identity.

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5) FACEBOOK: BE CAREFUL WITH REGIONAL NETWORKS
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While we’re on the topic of Facebook privacy settings, many folks join regional location-based networks (“Raleigh/Durham” for instance) without realizing the security implications.

Many of your profile’s security settings are configured by default to allow access to your friends and your networks. But since no email address is required to join a regional network, basically those settings enable literally anybody to join a regional network that you happen to be in, and then have access to your entire profile unless/until you lock it down.

I’ve never joined a regional network myself for that reason, but if you decide to join one make sure to adjust your privacy settings to limit what people in your networks can see.

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6) BE AWARE OF WHAT YOU SHARE…
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People like social networks because of the sense of intimacy they provide, and that in turn tends to create “overshare” — disclosing information that you’d never reveal if you noticed thousands of people were watching (which they typically are on Facebook and elsewhere).

For example, how many of you have your full date of birth (including the year) on your Facebook profile?

If you raised your hand, did you know that in many states someone’s name and full date of birth are the only things needed to access things like their full voter registration profile… which almost always includes a residential address? Most of us would never randomly announce our birthday in a room full of people, but we do it online without thinking. Complete DOB’s on Facebook profiles are a stalker’s dream come true.

This and other information gets shared with everybody every day on social networks. Be aware of what information you’re revealing publicly and how it can be used by others.

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7) …AND CONFIGURE PASSWORD-CHALLENGE QUESTIONS ACCORDINGLY
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Another example of the security implications of overshare: learning the answers to password-challenge questions.

Those of you who paid attention to the 2008 presidential elections may recall that Sarah Palin learned this the hard way. On most websites, if you’ve forgotten your password typically you can answer one or more “challenge questions” that are supposed to have answers only you know. Figure out the answer, and you get access to the password or the ability to create a new password.

One of the most common challenge questions: “what is your mother’s maiden name?”

Seems innocuous enough, until you notice that the vast majority of women on Facebook include their maiden names in their profile, and many of the mothers have their sons/daughters linked to their profile. I actually once fell into this category: I have my mom listed as one of my parents, but she has her maiden name as part of her profile. So because of that I had to go through several websites and change my challenge-response questions.

The same applies to other information as well. A close friend of mine once blew me off when I told him he needed to do a better job securing himself online, insisting to me that his information was secure and that he’d buy me a fifth of vodka if I could hack one of his accounts. The challenge question to access the website for his student loans was “What was the color of your first car?”… and his profile picture on both AIM and Facebook was him standing in front of his ’98 Wolfpack red Mustang.

Needless to say I enjoyed the vodka :D

Go through all of your challenge-response questions on each site you use, and make sure the answers are information that can’t be easily figured out from your publicly-accessible information on Facebook, Twitter, a blog, or any other sites you use. Otherwise you might be unknowingly giving access to your information to anyone who wants it badly enough.

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8) SEARCH FOR YOURSELF PERIODICALLY
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Don’t hesitate to occasionally do a search on your name to see if anyone is impersonating you or has compromised your information. We can get free copies of our credit reports each year to verify our financial health, but few folks realize they can easily check the internet to detect if their information has been compromised as well.

Besides, odds are good potential employers are going to do a Google search on you as part of their background check anyway. Shouldn’t you already know what they’re going to find? ;)

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9) LIMIT WHAT E-COMMERCE INFO YOU STORE ON VENDOR SITES…
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Along with your passwords being at the mercy of a website’s security, the same is true for any credit/debit card information you store with a vendor. Stories of vendor databases being hacked and credit cards being revealed are all over Google yet people still choose to store that information on vendor sites for the sake of convenience.

Don’t do it.

I know it’s annoying to go grab your credit/debit card when you want to make an online purchase, especially if it’s a website you use frequently. But the inconvenience that can be caused by your credit card being compromised by hackers is far bigger than the minor inconvenience of entering in a number each time you use it.

If you do choose to store credit card information online, see if your banking institution provides an automatic card number generator. These are slowly becoming more common with banks and essentially let you create a bunch of “temporary” card numbers linked to your real account, with different restrictions on how long they last or how much money can be charged to them. Using these temporary numbers limit the fallout if a vendor’s database gets hacked.

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10) …AND MOVE QUICK IF SOMETHING IS WRONG
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If, God forbid, you have the misfortune of having your identity stolen — or being harassed by your fiancé’s ex-girlfriends — make sure to move quickly.

Certain information about you is logged every time you do something online. For example, just by reading law:/dev/null or any other blog your computer has shared your IP address (the numeric address designating what computer you’re using to access the site), the browser you’re using, your operating system, and so on. Almost every single site you ever access, especially things like social networks or financial institutions, keep all this information in case it’s ever needed by law enforcement.

The catch is that a lot of this info is only stored for 30 days. If someone has hacked into your email or your Facebook account or something similar, you’ve got a narrow window of time to notify law enforcement to help catch the people responsible. And if someone has obtained your financial information, usually you have to notify your bank immediately to use any identity theft protection they might offer.

Theft of your personal information is one of those instances where procrastination is a certifiably Really Bad Idea™ ;)

***

Hope y’all find this info useful :) And if you have any computing security tips of your own, feel free to share them in the comments! :D

Postscript: I’d also like to thank professors Sammie Carter and Dr. Annie Antón for their respective Introduction to Computer Security and Privacy Policy, Technology & Law classes at N.C. State. Even though I was among their worst students, I promise I really did learn some things :)

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Past TDot’s Tips entries:

  1. It was at least a plausible claim, as the criminal investigation had apparently implicated two other ex-girlfriends in addition to the defendant in this case :crack: []
  2. It was entertaining watching their reactions when they found out it was my major at NC State. []

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TDot’s Tips: More $$$-saving ideas

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Jun 13, 2010 in TDot's Tips

Good evening everybody! :D

A couple weeks ago I posted a handful of tips for the pre-L’s on how to live within their means when they get to law school in a couple months.

Several of you sent positive feedback saying you thought the tips were useful, but a few folks complained they focused more on money management habits (making a budget, living like a law student instead of a lawyer, etc) instead of tangible ways to save $$$ while you’re in law school.

Luckily for y’all, I’ve got a few of those too ;)

Here are some suggestions I’ve used to live large without going broke:

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1) FIND A 2L AND PHYSICALLY ATTACH YOURSELF TO THEIR HIP
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Figuratively at least :)

2Ls can already give you great advice because they remember 1L year like it was yesterday — since it basically was yesterday for us, being only a couple months ago.

An added perk of 2Ls: they’ve got 1L books they need to sell, or know classmates who have them. Selling direct to a 1L gets them more cash than they’d get from the bookstore, and saves you a tidy sum compared to what you’d pay buying from the bookstore or Amazon.

*PLUS* you get the added perk of their text highlights. It’s like peering into the mind of someone who was in your class just before you, and can be a huge help for digesting cases.

In my own case, I bought 2 of my books from Delta the now-3L1 and a 3rd from a classmate she arranged for me to meet. The highlights in my Torts textbook were spot-on — I didn’t highlight a single thing the entire semester because I knew exactly what “take home” points to pull from the text. Same with CrimLaw.

And I saved $100+ in the process, which got used to pay my BLSA dues and buy a handful of class-related t-shirts throughout the year.

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2) CHECK STATE SURPLUS FOR OFFICE SUPPLIES
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With few exceptions, every state and local government across the country has an office or agency where they take surplus government property and sell it to the public. Many universities have them as well.

These are easily among the biggest bargains you will ever find on anything office-related ;) A few (like North Carolina’s state surplus office in Raleigh) even have surplus vehicles and fancy stuff seized from drug dealers and such.2

Things like computers and GPS units are quickly snapped up by folks who then resell them on eBay, so if you want the good stuff on those you need to be there early and on days when shipments come in. But for things like chairs, desks and filing cabinets, they’ll always have a constant supply that you just have to inspect closely.

For example, my desk chair is nicely cushioned, vertically adjustable, rocks back, has rolling wheels on it, etc. It was sent to state surplus because the left armrest was loose, which I discovered could be fixed with about 10 minutes of work adjusting the screw.3

Retail price: $110 + tax
eBay price for similar style and use: $30 + shipping
My surplus price: $5 cash
Savings: $25+ (83%)

The only catch for most of these surplus offices is that it’s a cash- or money-order business many times. Most don’t take checks, and many don’t take credit or debit cards because state laws typically ban paying the card vendor fees (and the card vendors ban merchants from directly passing the fees on to customers).

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3) CHECK CRAIGSLIST FOR EVERYTHING ELSE
====================

More well-known than trolling the surplus offices (but still an excellent spot to find good deals) are the CraigsList listings for your area.

I’ve used CraigsList three times since law school. The first time was finding someone who had just moved in and needed to get rid of their cardboard boxes — got a bunch of really good ones free of charge, and used them to move myself to Durham :D

雅雅 also helped me look for a bed, where we found a lady who had a full-size bed and box spring in a spare room. She was upgrading her own bed to a queen-size, her old bed was going to replace the spare room bed, and the spare room bed needed to be sold. She was incredibly nice and even agreed to hold the bed until the week before orientation so I could come up with the cash.

Retail price for same bed and box spring: $900 + tax
eBay price for similar style and use: $500 + shipping
My CraigsList price: $100 cash (plus she delivered it!)
Savings: $400+ (80%)

Great for football, Wii, and L&O:SVU marathons ;)

The last time I used it was actually a couple weeks ago, when I needed to find a TV for my living room. I had previously figured out how to jerry-rig a normal office projector to play video from the cable box, and got über-spoiled by essentially having a 110″ TV in the living room.

I found a couple who had just moved from California to Chapel Hill, and because of the configuration of their new place there wasn’t a suitable place to put their projector and still get a decent-sized picture. Their loss turned out to be my gain :D

Retail price for cheapest projector with comparable specs: $700 + tax
eBay price for similar style and use: $400 + shipping
My CraigsList price: $300 cash
Savings: $100+ (25%)

The risk with CraigsList is its popularity among scammers, and the fact you typically end up visiting the house of someone you don’t know… who could conceivably be a serial killer or stalker or something. So if you’re nervous grab a buddy and bring them with you.

And like the surplus offices, finding the really sweet deals require a certain level of diligence and luck — check the listings regularly throughout the day, and if you find something you want contact the seller ASAP.

====================
4) SEE IF YOUR MOBILE PHONE PLAN IS OBSOLETE
====================

I stumbled onto this one by accident, so you’re forgiven if you didn’t know about it already ;)

Mobile phone companies adjust their calling plans frequently, usually at least twice a year. They usually feature capacity increases for minutes (and data usage if you’ve got a smartphone), changes to other calling features, and occasionally price reductions.

If you’ve got a plan that’s been phased out, your mobile phone company will happily continue letting you keep that plan and continue taking your money without ever telling you. But they also like getting rid of obsolete plans when it makes sense for them to do so, since it cuts down on operational expenses the more people are in a “one size fits all” arrangement.

Periodically check with your mobile phone provider and see if your current plan is obsolete. If it is, see if they’ll let you change to the new plan without requiring a contract extension (or if you really like the provider, extend your contract with them).

Two years ago, back when I was both NC State‘s Student Senate President and UNCASG President at the same time, I needed to upgrade my phone plan so that I’d have more than the 900 minutes I was originally using. I found out my current plan was no longer offered and I upgraded to 1350 minutes a month for less money than I was already paying.

Now that I’ve retired from both positions, I actually need to downgrade… and lucky for me it turns out the 1350-minute plans are no longer offered, so I can downgrade back to 900 minutes, pay less $$, and don’t have to extend my contract :spin:

====================
5) CHECK FOR YOUR UNIVERSITY’S DISCOUNTS
====================

While we’re on the topic of mobile phones, this one is a potential gold mine :)

Almost every school of law in the country is affiliated with a public or private university. And almost every university in the country works out special deals with all sorts of vendors so their students and employees can get discounts on a variety of products and services — anything to help lure people to the institution.

For example, back when I was at NC State everyone affiliated with the University was eligible for a discount on their Verizon mobile phone service: 20% per month, for the life of their account. All I had to do was present my student ID and a University-affiliated email address.

My mobile phone savings: ~$300/year

NCSU had a large variety of other discounts too, I just never used them. It seems very few students actually know about the discounts, especially in the graduate/professional schools where you didn’t have the opportunity to go through the university’s orientation they give the undergrads. Check with your University’s student affairs folks or the business office to see if they have anything similar, or just ask the companies you use if they have student discounts for your university.

The worst they can do is say no ;)

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6) ALSO CHECK FOR GROUP-RATE DISCOUNTS
====================

Similar to the discounts that universities negotiate as perks for their students and employees, many state/national fraternities, sororities and trade organizations have similar discounts as well.

Consider car insurance.

Back when I used to work as a paralegal for a personal injury attorney, I saw entirely too many cases where accident victims were left with debilitating injuries and future medical expenses that would never be covered because the tortfeasor was uninsured or had a low policy limit while the victim had minimal underinsurance coverage (used when the tortfeasor’s policy is nonexistent or maxed out; you make a claim against your own policy).

Out of paranoia I amped up the limits on my auto policy to the max most companies offer in North Carolina “over the counter” without drafting special contracts: $100K/$300K personal injury, $100K damage, $5K medical payments, etc etc etc.

The problem is that much coverage is @#$%ing expensive, even when you have a flawless driving record :mad:

Turns out the North Carolina Farm Bureau, an advocacy group I’ve been a member of for the better part of a decade, has its own insurance company. In exchange for the mere $25 a year in dues I was paying to the organization, I was able to cut my auto insurance bill in half for the same policy limits.

Your mileage may vary (pun intended) depending on where you live and your group affiliation, but it can’t hurt to check :)

====================
7) ADJUST YOUR THERMOSTAT TO YOUR STUDY HABITS
====================

We’ve all probably seen or read at some point the various public service announcements on TV or in magazines about the money you could save by tweaking the temperature in your house up or down a couple degrees depending on the weather.

If you haven’t done that before, law school is the time to start ;)

Particularly if you’re the type of person who will spend a lot of time at school, you won’t be in your apartment all that much during the week. Set your temperature a few degrees cooler in the fall/winter months so your heat comes on less frequently when you’re not at home to enjoy it. Do the opposite in the spring/summer.

How much you save will depend on a number of variables (including living space, type of heating/cooling, the weather, etc) but using my own apartment as an example I’m running about $15/mo less than the previous tenant. It’s not much, but it adds up.

====================
8) WATCH YOUR EATING HABITS
====================

Food tends to become an afterthought when you’re trying to read through dozens of cases a night. My (admittedly unscientific) observations suggest the overwhelming majority of law students I’ve met fall into 2 groups: (1) folks who forget to eat and then grab fast food on the way home, and (2) folks who get bored out of their minds while reading and frequently snack on junk food to break up the monotony.

My stomach and I happen to span both groups :beatup:

In addition to the unpleasant health side effects — I’ve got several classmates who ballooned during the semester, dropped a ton of weight during winter break, gained it back during the spring semester, and are now starving themselves to lose it again — constantly eating fast food and junk food will eat up a lot of cash (pun intended here too :* ).

Now I’m not going to parrot other folks and tell you to eat fruits and veggies and all that jazz. It’d be great if you did, but I’m not gonna give y’all advice that I don’t follow myself ;)

You might want to learn to cook at least a little bit; see this TDot’s Tips entry for more, and also check out TDot’s Treats for some recipes. In terms of food-per-$, that’s the cheapest route to go by far.

But if you don’t have time to cook or forget, try to stick to the low-cost value menus if you go to a fast food place. Not only is the food cheaper, the portions are usually smaller but still filling (limiting the 1L weight gain).

====================
9) AND WATCH YOUR OTHER VICES
====================

All of us have our own “guilty pleasures.” Some folks like to buy shoes, others prefer video games, still others hit the bar every night of the week. In my case it’s DVDs — you could probably guess from the projector :beatup: — an unnecessary expense I justify to myself as a reward for being amazing.

No matter how well-deserved that reward may be ( ;)) the costs add up quickly.

Try to keep a close eye on how much you’re spending to indulge those habits. You might even want to put a line item in your monthly budget for the occasional splurge.

Especially in the beginning of the semester when cash is plentiful, it’s real easy to dig a financial hole without realizing it… and one you’ll have to fill in right around the time final exams get here. Not a good situation, but one you can easily avoid :)

***

That concludes my list of things to help save you money!

Hopefully all of you will find at least 2-3 items on this list that might be useful — and if you’ve got tips of your own, share them in the comments! :D

—===—

Past TDot’s Tips entries:

  1. I need to change Delta’s tag btw; I’ll knock that out some time soon. For now just remember she’s officially a 3L. []
  2. The office in Raleigh once had a diamond-encrusted pool table from a drug dealer. The diamonds alone were worth $50K+ :crack: []
  3. Work which I concede I still haven’t done because I just don’t care enough to fix it :beatup: []

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5

TDot’s Tips: Tips for the pre-L’s on $$$

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on May 29, 2010 in TDot's Tips

Judging by some of the search queries bringing folks here to law:/dev/null, those of you accepted into the Class of 2013 are scurrying around online looking for law school advice before orientation starts in a couple months.

First, CONGRATULATIONS! :D I was just in your shoes not too long ago, I remember what it was like, and I’m excited for you!

Second, chill out ;) See this post from Law School Ninja — use this summer to relax, not to try and prepare for law school. Preparation is not gonna make a lick of difference, I assure you :)

Third, assuming you’re going to ignore that previous paragraph, use the summer to learn how to manage your finances. I’ve met a lot of law students from a lot of law schools who barely know how to balance their checkbooks.1  Law school is stressful enough without being worried about money.

Here are a few tips I’ve put together that might be able to help you in your first year:

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1) CREATE A BUDGET
====================

A simple sample budget

This one probably seems like common sense, but it’s probably the most important thing you can do financially — make sure you’ve got a decent idea of how much money you’ve got coming in, and how much you’ll have going out.

I’ve seen simple budgets sketched out on a piece of notebook paper; I’ve seen needlessly complex budgets using crazy functions in Microsoft Excel that I didn’t even know existed :beatup:

No matter what level of complexity you use, the important thing is to try and stick to the budget whenever possible.

To the right is a sample budget I put together for this blog entry, which I’ll probably end up using for the upcoming year. The main thing is to have an easy-to-reference sheet where you can see your major expenses and income sources.

====================
2) SET ASIDE $$ IN SAVINGS
====================

You might notice in that sample budget that I’ve included “Deposit to Savings Account” as an expense.

One of the weird things about 1L life is that you’re strongly strongly strongly discouraged from having any outside employment at all.2 That means if something unexpected happens, you don’t have the option of working overtime or extra shifts to make the $$ for it.

So if you’re living off student loans like most of us, your financial aid refund is all you get for the entire semester. Set aside a chunk of it early (I’d suggest 10%) into a savings account or some other safe spot, before you get tempted to spend it.

That way if something unexpected does happen, you’re covered. And if not, you’ll have extra money to use on whatever you want later on :)

And put it explicit in the budget so you actually remember to set it aside, rather than forgetting it’s supposed to be saved and then inadvertently spending it on something. Like highlighters ;)

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3) RENT THE LEAST EXPENSIVE PLACE YOU’RE COMFORTABLE LIVING IN
====================

Most of the expenses you’ll have in a given month will be in the sub-$100 range, and a good chunk of them (e.g. cable TV, fast food, etc) can be given up if you get into a real financial bind mid-semester.

That’s not the case with the rent ;)

As you’re searching around your new city for an apartment, make sure to do a comprehensive comparison among your options — then pick the least expensive place you’re still comfortable living in.

I’ve got a classmate who I’ll leave nameless, but who definitely isn’t stupid. When he signed his lease back in August, he picked a newer apartment complex up the road from me with all kinds of fancy amenities — gated entrance, nice pool, nicer gym, detached garage, etc etc. A really swank place, about $75/mo more than mine.

Then when late November got here, he was running short on his funding and was stressed out trying to figure out how to cover his December bills… right as he had to start studying for final exams :beatup: Luckily for him everything worked itself out, but you don’t need that pointless stress.

For that $375 he paid more than me over the 5 months of Fall semester, he used the nice pool all of 0 times, went to the nice gym just the first month before studying took up his free time, and spent a good chunk of his life at the law school while his detached garage was empty. Plus his summer internship is in another town so he’s trying to find someone willing to sublease for just a couple months (thus far no takers).

Now if a potential apartment just screams to you “LIVE HERE!“, then by all means go with it. Preferably after getting psychiatric help for thinking your apartment is screaming to you :* But if you can handle a smaller pool or gym, or forgo the entrance gate, consider giving up those amenities for the $$ you’ll save over the course of the year.

====================
4) USE YOUR REFUND TO PAY DOWN YOUR CREDIT CARDS
====================

By the time folks reach law school, odds are good they have at least one credit card. An April 2009 study found graduating students on average have 4.6 cards carrying $4,100 in debt.

Despite the high interest rates many credit cards charge, they can provide an invaluable level of financial flexibility. I’ve had to use mine on more than one occasion for textbooks or tuition when financial aid didn’t stretch far enough.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t trim the amount of interest you’re paying for that flexibility :D

If you get a financial aid refund, throw it all at your highest interest rate credit card(s). You’ll end up using your cards throughout the semester for basic purchases and paying bills, but you’ll be paying less in daily interest than if you kept the $$ in your checking account while making minimum payments on the credit card(s).

====================
5) “YOU’RE A LAW STUDENT, NOT A LAWYER”
====================

No matter how you handle your finances, or whether you follow any other money-related tips you come across, remember: you’re a law student, not a lawyer ;)

The mansion, home theater, luxury car, yacht and all the other accoutrements of being an attorney will come to you in due time. But that time isn’t going to be the 3 years while you’re in law school3

Live like a lawyer now and you’ll end up like my friend, stressing over cash flow when you need to be studying for Contracts. Live frugally and you’ll still have the resources to still enjoy yourself :spin:

***

That’s all I’ve got for this post — hopefully you’ll find at least one of these tips useful!

Good luck to all of you, and congratulations again on your acceptance! :) If you have any questions on anything, let me know! :D

—===—

Past TDot’s Tips entries:

  1. It’s even more amazing considering some of these folks will be managing finances for their law practices… []
  2. To underscore the point, the ABA actually has a rule saying you can’t work more than 20 hours a week :surprised:  []
  3. Unless you hit the lottery. Don’t hold your breath. []

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TDot’s Tips #8: Don’t burn your bridges

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Feb 8, 2010 in TDot's Tips

I’ll confess: I was notoriously arrogant when I first got to N.C. State back in 1998.

I know that comes as a shock to all of about -0- of you :P

In hindsight I’m not entirely sure why I acted the way I did. I was only a slightly-above-average student, paired with well-above-average acne and well-below-average athleticism :beatup: But you wouldn’t believe it from how I carried myself and interacted with other folks.

Until I met QuietStorm.

We both were freshman appointees to the single most distinguished student deliberative assembly ever conceived in the State of North Carolina, and both of us got assigned to the same committee. I jumped into the policy debates in person and over the listserv from Day 1, and didn’t hesitate to employ a little vitriol in condemning proposals I considered ridiculous.

In response to one of those emails a few days after our appointment, I got a polite response from QuietStorm — our first interaction with each other — essentially telling me to STFU. My response was far less refined, including at least one reference to me “actively mock[ing]” people with her political beliefs.

She shot back minutes later informing me that I didn’t know her well enough to know her political beliefs, she was only trying to be help me avoid alienating people, and a closing admonishment: “Don’t burn your bridges. You never know when you’re going to need one.”

I realized she was right — over the next few months I learned that she was not only more politically conservative than me, but that we also made a phenomenal team. So I dialed back the pretentiousness over the next semester and adopted a policy of trying to be courteous and respectful to everybody.1

I’m sure there are plenty of folks in the world who don’t like me, but hopefully their distaste isn’t from anything I did to them :)

Days like today remind me it was a good choice.

It started this morning in response to my quote in this article for the Raleigh News & Observer. I sound like a fool, but got a Facebook message from someone who graduated in 3 years, read the story and wanted to wish me well in law school.  The name looked familiar but I wasn’t 100% sure why. A quick Google search confirmed my hunch — QuietStorm and I both worked with him in the Student Senate way back in 1999.

Then after CivPro I drove down to Raleigh to get my car repaired (again). I was talking with one of my colleagues from western NC about the tuition/fee vote at this week’s meeting of the UNC Board of Governors, and after I hung up a guy standing near the door goes “Hey are you Greg?” After my initial impulse to go “who wants to know?” subsided, I found out he was a student at UNC Pembroke (about 1.5 hours south of Raleigh) who I had met for a few minutes almost a year earlier as part of our UNCASG Listening Tour.

Here in the span of a few hours were two folks, interaction with the former separated by time and the latter by geography, who I never expected to cross paths with again. Imagine how either of those conversations would have turned out had I still been an asshole! :beatup:

And as if Life wanted to underscore the point, just before writing this post I got a terse email from a guy working for an organization I’ll leave nameless, demanding a favor from me in my capacity as President of UNCASG — the largest student advocacy organization in North Carolina, and thus a preferred audience for his group. The guy in question? One of the folks responsible for deploying various crude insults about me2) back during my first campaign for Student Senate President.

Needless to say I declined his request :angel:

As many a 2L, 3L and post-L will tell you, the folks we’re working with in law school are going to end up being our friends and colleagues for years down the road. It’s probably a good idea to treat them well so they’ve got a favorable impression of you in the future, because whether it’s in a courtroom or a car repair shop you never know when you’ll cross paths with someone again :)

Have a great night everybody! :D

—===—

Past TDot’s Tips entries:

  1. Albeit only as a “no first strike” policy: folks who were rude/mean to me or friends were exempt :angel: []
  2. Mispronouncing my last name sounds similar to a feminine hygiene product, which was apparently the height of civic discourse for the campaign. It’s part of why I felt no sympathy when this poster started appearing ; []

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4

TDot’s Tips: Final Exam Edition

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Dec 16, 2009 in TDot's Tips

Sorry for the extended break, I was enjoying the whole “class is over and I don’t have anything to do”-ness of winter break.  But today was mostly spent at the law school, meaning it was time to finally get around to resuming the blog posts here at law:/dev/null :)

Today itself was… interesting.  I was fortunate enough to make the 1L trial advocacy team for a competition next month, but the preliminary interview for the Client Counseling Competition was an unmitigated disaster. I’m lucky Madame Prosecutor didn’t wring my neck in the middle of the interview room because I clearly don’t know the first thing about interviewing potential clients :beatup:

Fortunately I’m getting the experience now so I’ll be in better shape a few weeks from now.

Speaking of getting experience: exams! Wow. That was an experience.

My classmates and I had a little heads up on how everything was going to happen since the N.C. Central University School of Law is one of apparently few law schools that provide midterm exams. But in the words of MDG: “The difference between midterms and finals is like the difference between a chihuahua and a great dane.”

He wasn’t lying.

The multiple choice questions in all of the classes were almost absurdly nitpicky (hat tip to Jansen for the word choice ;)). It was one of those situations where I could tell what specific topic the professor was trying to test, but the particulars were sufficiently complex that I couldn’t say with any degree of certainty whether or not I chose the right answer. And of course nearly every question had “D. All of the above. E. None of the above.” as the last two answer choices.

I’m taking solace in the fact I finished all of the essays, which was a switch from midterms.

Anyhow, now that exams are over I figured I’d share some of my own tips on exam prep. I stipulate that some of this reiterates advice other blawgers have already given — see FTS and FO and idswj — but I figured I’d tell you what worked for me so you have another perspective to add when considering different techniques ;)

  1. DON’T STRESS! If you ignore every other bullet point in this entry, remember this. One of the awkward moments of final exams was spent trying to console a friend who was having a mental breakdown, even though she’s one of maybe 4 people in our section who I’d bet actual cash on knowing the material backwards and forwards. Yes, grades are important — but they’re not the end of the world. Stressing out to the point of melting down just makes you less competitive when you take the actual test.
  2. Rehearse if it helps. No matter how many times folks read that earlier bullet, some of them are still going to freak out over exams. One way to help deal with that nervousness is to practice under as-close-to-real-life conditions as you can get. Find practice exams and force yourself to take them under strict time conditions; use a stopwatch to time you if necessary. If you can only find 1 or 2 practice exams, re-take them until you’re comfortable. Remember the objective with these practice exams isn’t necessarily to get the material down cold, but instead to help you stay calm in the actual test.
  3. Study however works best for you. It may sound strange, but I’ve become a firm believer in Dr. Psych’s comments on learning styles. I’m overwhelmingly a kinesthetic/”tactile” learner — I learn by doing. For me that means writing out index cards (CivPro) or taking practice exams (Property). If you’re a visual learner, you’ll probably benefit from reading and re-reading your outline several times. And if you’re an aural learner, try saying your outline aloud so you hear it. Matching your study habits with your study style helps burn the information deep into your mind for finals :)
  4. Sleep. Adequate rest is important to remembering the information you absorbed studying, and it will help you stay focused on the exam itself. Trying to go off 2-3 hours of sleep because you pulled an all-nighter is counterproductive. You should have learned that in undergrad :P
  5. Do the multiple choice questions first. Unless you’re *very* disciplined with your test-taking skills, knock out the multiple choice questions before moving to the essays. A handful of my colleagues tried to reverse what they tackled first since several folks ran out of time on the midterms, and a few never made it to the multiples at all on the final as a result. Essays are free-form, so we naturally spend more time writing, tweaking, editing, adding, etc. They’re a huge time sink, and if you don’t grab the easy points first (the multiples) you risk missing them entirely.
  6. Remember the Rules of Fight Club. Mariel said it best, so I’ll defer to her ;)
  7. Smile (when it’s over). You’ve survived. Pat yourself on the back for a semester’s worth of hard work, and know you’re that much closer to the end of the road and the J.D. waiting there for you :D
  8. For those of you who are finally done with your final exams, congratulations! :) And to those of you still slogging through the trenches on the way to the end of the semester — GOOD LUCK! :D

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TDot’s Tips #1: Exercise!

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Nov 29, 2009 in TDot's Tips

For those of you who are new readers to law:/dev/null (welcome!! :) ), the “TDot’s Tips” category is basically where I compile snippets of unwarranted and minimally useful advice from my life in case you’re a pre-L looking for suggestions on making it through law school or a #L wondering what works for other #Ls. Your mileage may vary, there are no express or implied warranties as to the effectiveness of the tips herein, caveat emptor, etc etc etc ;)

The draft of this particular post was actually written awhile ago, in anticipation of a day when I’d have nothing to post. Turns out life had other plans — I’m now crutch-stricken courtesy of a “suspected stress fracture to the left tibia.” I’ve been doing physical training to get in shape for the USMC (hoping to go to Officer Candidates School this coming June) and apparently have been running a little too far, a little too hard, a little too soon :beatup:

The upside? It provides an excellent segue into the topic of this entry :D

Studying the law is a tedious process. Mind-numbingly boring in fact. You’re basically growing your mind in two ways at once. First of course you’re learning the law itself… and the requisite exceptions… and the requisite exceptions to those exceptions. Then you’re also learning to be overly-analytical and “think like a lawyer” so you can successfully rob your life of anything even vaguely resembling spontaneity or simplicity as you invariably dicker over terms and conditions.

Even if both of those come naturally or you enjoy them, you’ll still be undergoing an evolutionary process only slightly more exciting than watching your hard drive defragment itself :beatup:

That’s the main reason why exercising in law school is so important. Even if you’re not the exercising type — I had been to the gym a grand total of maybe twice in my last 2-3 years of undergrad — just getting out of the house and going for a walk around the neighborhood will clear and refresh your mind.

Building up to more aggressive activities like running or playing basketball will also help you stay fit and be more energetic during the day. That’s a particular benefit if you’re not a morning type and spend your first class or two of the day in a haze (trust me).

And keeping your body accustomed to physical activity helps ensure you don’t end up breaking something doing too much too soon ;)

So as you’re studying for the LSAT or final exams or anything else coming up at this time of year, make sure to take at least an hour a day to do something non-school-related. You’ll be glad you did :)

Have a great night folks! :D

—===—

Past TDot’s Tips:

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TDot’s Tips #4: Back up. Then back up again.

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Nov 18, 2009 in TDot's Tips

I think one of the reasons I decided to get my bachelor’s degree in Computer Science was the reliability of modern technology.

Your laptop will never beg you to come visit because you haven’t seen each other in awhile, text you that it’s on the way to the pizza joint where everyone is gathering, and then stand you up when you get to town because “cell reception was bad” (apparently along with the reception of the dozens of other friends at the party it was attending who had mobile phones and could have contacted you on its behalf so you didn’t hang around for nearly 2 hours worried something bad had happened).

Your desktop won’t invite you at the last minute to a University Housing event its throwing, call you various unpleasantries when you decline attending because you’ve got another event at that same time, then (after you’ve rearranged your schedule to be a good friend and make an appearance) ask a mutual friend to ask you to leave since its ex-boyfriend was there and it “didn’t want things to be awkward.”

And they both certainly wouldn’t do it on the same day within a few hours of each other :mad:

No, folks, computers aren’t that capricious. Once you’ve programmed your computer to execute a given chain of commands, it can do so over and over again in perpetuity.  Sure things occasionally fail every few years — I’ve had a couple hard drives die over the past 4 — but you usually get tipped off in advance as startup times slow to a crawl or certain data gets corrupted.

But even when a hard drive fails, the data loss is easily fixed when you have an up-to-date backup.

And you know what else a data backup guards against? Theft.

That was the situation when I got to class this morning.  One of my classmates — who asked me to leave her name out of this blog entry1 — walked up to me, eyes red from crying, and pleaded “Mr. Computer Science, I need your help.

Those first three words are the ones most tech folks dread hearing.  When someone wants an advice on a computer purchase or a minor issue with their browser, they’ll usually refer to you by name. “Hey TDot, what do you think about this particular laptop configuration?” or “Good morning TDot. Can you help me fix this random non-critical issue with my Firefox theme?” etc.

But when someone drops a reference to the CSC degree when they approach you, they’re implicitly elevating you to near-deity status in the hope the added pressure to meet their expectations will enable you to fix whatever catastrophe has befallen them.  In this particular case, my fellow 1L had been saving all of her work all semester — outlines, case briefs, mock exams, the whole shebang — on a single portable flash/keychain drive that had been stolen while she was visiting the law library at a neighboring law school.  There were no copies on her laptop.  There were no backups on an external disk somewhere.  There weren’t even old email attachments she could retrieve. It was all on that pilfered disk.

After scouring her laptop hard drive for anything usable, I found a few corrupted temp files that I was able to extract some text data from courtesy of a couple Unix tools.2  It helped save her from being totally behind now that we’re only 2.5 weeks before finals, but even my best efforts still left her with a lot less data than she originally had.

Moral of the story: back up your data.

And once you’ve backed up your data, back it up again somewhere else. Keep copies on your laptop. Store duplicates on a flash/keychain drive. Open a Gmail account and email files to yourself occasionally. Buy a Mac and use Time Machine.  Consult Google for other options.

Just don’t let yourself be the one forced to start a sentence with “Mr. Computer Science…;)

  1. Because she’s ever-so-slightly embarrassed that she ignored my advice on the topic back during midterms :P []
  2. If you didn’t already know, MacOS X rocks. In undergrad I was amazed at how many CSC folks use Macs.  All of you should convert to them. Seriously. []

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