3

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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7

TDot’s Mailbag v5.0: What Law School’s Really Like

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Apr 14, 2010 in Mail

This was originally a TDot’s Tips entry titled “Tips for the Pre-L’s” — until I started writing it Monday afternoon, when Delta the 2L sat down next to me in the Fishbowl and wanted to know what I would be doing at 7:00pm that night.

I’ve learned the only acceptable answer when she asks me that question is “What would you like me to be doing Delta?” :beatup:

Turns out the Pre-Law Students Association at my alma mater was holding a panel discussion titled “What is Law School Really Like?” and she wanted a partner from the N.C. Central University School of Law to help rep for the Legal Eagles.

Since I came at law from a non-traditional angle I had to say yes. Besides, y’all know how I am about competition :angel:

There were about 30 undergrads in the audience, and the panel turned out to be a solid mix of folks with 3 students from Campbell Law, 3 from UNCCH Law, 2 from Duke Law, an alum from Wake Forest Law, and of course Delta and I from NCCU Law.1 I think 6-7 of us were 1Ls, but the 2Ls/3Ls/post-Ls were represented by at least 1 person apiece.

The questions covered a wide range of topics that you’d expect from aspiring law students: workload, types of classes, “gunners” and competition, and so on. But some panel members did tend to commandeer the discussion and recognize new questioners before folks had a chance to answer the previous question, and yesterday one of the sophomores in attendance shot me a message.

Rather than do the usual Q&A format for past mail entries, I figured I’d post what he sent me and offer my $.02 from there.  Here’s what I got:

Overall, I enjoyed listening to the panel and attending the event. I do wish the the questions/answers had been more organized so that each student from each law school could have given a more direct answer and that every student could have been given the chance to answer each question.

I would have liked to have learned more about the admissions process from the students also. I believe the bar exam was only mentioned once or twice in the whole forum; from what I have heard the bar exam is one of the top things that law students are trying to make sure they pass, that was one dimension that was almost forgotten about….and I’m not quite sure why?

It seemed like the whole time all of the students were all up tight and bashing the amount of work load and la la la the whole time. I was like okay I get the point that law school is a lot of work, I’m aware of that now, I am more than willing to put in the time and effort, enough with the talks about how much work it is, tell me more about WHAT LAW SCHOOL IS REALLY LIKE – tell me about the professors, tell me about the elective courses you can take, tell me about the mock trials you can participate in, etc etc.

I fully understand, and *commend* every single law student out there for the amount of work they have to put into law school; but this forum was not meant to whine about the work load if you get my gist.

Let me preface my thoughts by pointing out I’M NOT NORMAL. You hopefully figured this out at some point amid (i) Student Government being my preferred hobby, (ii) picking a T4 as my first-choice law school despite higher-ranked options, or (iii) deciding to go the law route at all after getting a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science. I’m strange, I’m upbeat about my own law school experience, and I’m even optimistic about the future prospects for the legal industry.

I’m also apparently one of the very, very, very few who feel that way :beatup:

So before reading on, I’d encourage you to check the other bloggers in the list at the right of this page. Dennis Jansen in particular has a ton of advice well worth reading — I read it myself before starting law:/dev/null, that’s how legit it is.

Now back to that email…

Admissions
Admissions was actually something I studied quite a bit as a side project when I was an undergrad.2 I’m not an expert by any means, but here’s some of what I’ve learned both in NC and nationwide:

  • The admissions process is going to vary by school of course, but pretty much everyone uses some form of indexing in their decisions.  Essentially take your undergraduate GPA and multiply it by a given fraction, take your LSAT score and multiply it by a different fraction, take whatever “special” factors your chosen school considers (e.g. legacy status, socioeconomic status, etc), add all those numbers up and you get your Academic Index score. Students above a certain number get in automatically, below a certain number get rejected automatically, and the folks in the middle get a closer look at your actual application to decide if you should be accepted, rejected, or waitlisted.
  • Any school that tells you they read all the applications is lying to you. There are simply too many applications for every school, and your typical admissions committee is roughly 3-5 people — usually 1 or 2 administrators, and the rest senior faculty. In other words they’re all busy people, and are simply not going to read 1,000+ essays or more per person. Period.
  • Apply early! Most schools also use “rolling admission,” which means they start accepting students throughout the application cycle — including those folks with the high Academic Index scores.  Typically that means by the time the advertised “deadline” approaches for a given school, all of the seats have admitted students filling them and you’re competing for spots that only open up when the accepted folks go somewhere else. The odds already are not in your favor; they get precipitously worse by the deadline.
  • Consider applying at public law schools in your state (if they’d be a good fit for you of course). Most state-supported institutions have caps on out-of-state students, making it comparably easier to get in if you’re in-state. For example, UNCCH Law limits out-of-state students to 25-30% of the student body even though out-of-staters typically make up 75%ish of the applications received. Private Duke Law, by contrast, had over 80%+ of its Class of 2012 coming from outside North Carolina.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help. I call this the “nontraditional” approach to admissions: if you know someone who’s an alum from your school, or back when you were a kid you used to mow the lawn for one of the professors, or one of your parent’s coworkers knows a friend of a friend who plays golf with the Dean, see if they have any advice they can offer to help you be as competitive as possible. The era of a well-placed phone call to the right person securing your acceptance has largely died off, but there are always “intangibles” in every process and there’s no harm in trying to line up as many as you can in your favor.

Bar Exam
At most undergraduate universities, when you finish all your required courses you’re usually entitled to graduate, get your degree, and start working in whatever field you studied.

Not so with law.

After you graduate, you’ll sit and take a bar exam for the jurisdiction where you want to practice. This is essentially a 2-3 day affair featuring multiple choice questions, essays, and similar tests on a variety of subjects to verify your competence to become a lawyer. Pass the bar, and you get to jump through the next set of assorted hoops to get your law license (“character and fitness” reviews, etc). Fail, and you get to wait 3-4 months to try again while desperately trying in the interim to find some way to pay your bills.

Training you to pass the bar, enabling you to become a competent attorney, is the #1 job of a law school. It’s also not easy — so make sure you pay attention in your law classes, because that info will be coming back in a few years.

The Work
There’s not much I can say here that will be useful to any of you, since I honestly don’t think the work in law school is that hard.

Why? Because I was horrible at my undergraduate major :beatup:

As a result I was/am already accustomed to sitting in one place in perpetuity (e.g. at a desk) doing the same thing for hours non-stop (e.g. debugging code) and giving up certain necessities of life (e.g. sleep and a social life) to get projects done on time. Law school has been a cakewalk by comparison, since the only “project” is generally a midterm and final exam — and reading case law for a few hours is infinitely easier than tracing Java code looking for an elusive bug.

Trust me ;)

Law school is a sizable volume of work, for certain. You’ll want to read all the cases you’re assigned so you’re able to understand the discussion taking place in class, which in turn will make it easier to digest the material and study for finals.

But law school is also a huge mind game. If you go in knowing you’re going to have a large volume of work and you take a disciplined approach to getting that work done, you’ll be fine — and should even have time for sleep and a social life :D

Professors
They’re all different, and it shows. MDG and Professor CrimLaw both have witty and disarming personalities — and are merciless graders who force you to know your material. Professor Torts takes a more disciplinarian approach. Professor Ks represents the “new school” and is more laid back than the others, while The Traveling Professor holds it down for the “old school” with her regal demeanor.

One unifying characteristic of the professors is that they’re all smart people. And the vast majority are friendly, approachable, and go out of their way to help students succeed at learning the law. After all, even these folks were 1Ls once upon a time.

The key is to not let yourself get intimidated — as your legal elders they’re entitled to a certain level of deference, but not to the point where you’re afraid to talk to them.

Electives
I’m not really qualified to say much here, simply because for almost all law schools your 1L year will be set in stone for you and cover “core” classes like Property, Contracts, Torts, Civil Procedure, Criminal Law and Constitutional Law.

If you want to browse around, NCCU Law has most of its electives posted online. Typically law schools will have electives on a huge range of topics (intellectual property, bioethics, veterans law, etc) and offer law clinics for students to experience first-hand different areas of the law where they might be interested in practicing.

But given the breadth of offerings and the differences between each law school, the best I can recommend here is to check out the individual offerings for every school you’re interested in.

Extracurriculars
This is another area where the philosophies of law schools tend to differ,3 but at many schools 1Ls get to participate in most of the exact same stuff as their upper-level colleagues.

Speaking for myself here at NCCU Law, I took part in 3 different mock trial competitions just for 1Ls, signed up for the 1L Moot Court competition (before realizing it conflicted with a UNCASG meeting), participated in an ABA-sponsored client counseling competition, played on the 1L basketball team in the annual Law Week tournament, attended several events for the Black Law Students Association, and got elected Treasurer of the Student Bar Association.

And there are literally dozens of other groups and activities that I could have done if I had other interests (or more time).

Most law schools will have class councils that throw parties, hold forums, host speakers, and so on. You’ve got legal fraternities like Phi Alpha Delta and Phi Delta Phi. You’ve got BLSA and HLSA and undoubtedly other LSAs I don’t know about. You’ve got liberal orgs promoting things like workers’ rights, conservative ones promoting things like constitutional originalism, and everything in between.

So as far as extracurriculars go — at least in my admittedly limited experience — law school is as much a full-spectrum experience as college.

“What would you do differently?”
If I could change one single thing about my experience here at NCCU Law, I wouldn’t be as nervous.

Those of you who are long-time readers at law:/dev/null might recall the comedy of unforced errors that was my orientation experience. I’ve taken my Socratic beatings too. But you know what I found out over the course of the semester?

Everybody experiences the same thing at some point.

All the 1Ls are going through the same trials and tribulations. Some folks are more adept at it than others, but there isn’t a single person out of the 50ish in my section who haven’t been flummoxed by a professor. Rather than the “gunner”-filled atmosphere you read about, most of your classmates will be on Facebook or Gchat or “whispering” hints at a slightly-above-whisper level,4 all trying to help you succeed — because they’ve either (i) been there too or (ii) will be soon.

So don’t be nervous. Go in confident, know you’re going to slip up at some point, and take it all in stride. It’ll make your law school experience far more enjoyable ;)

—===—

That’s my $.02 on what law school is really like, at least on those few topics :) Feel free to hit me up if you have any other questions!

Until then, have a great night everybody! :D

  1. The other 2 law schools in North Carolina are fairly new and only provisionally accredited: Elon Law and Charlotte Law. []
  2. Particularly the relative weights given to racial minorities (which are routinely criticized or banned) and “legacy” children of alumni (which are routinely not criticized or banned) and the effect of those weights among institutions of the 17-campus University of North Carolina… most of which were segregated until 50 years ago, giving a de facto race-based advantage to the white children of white alumni. []
  3. For example, the Campbell Law panelist said they don’t allow 1Ls to participate in extracurricular activities so they can focus on their studies. []
  4. The folks MDG fondly calls “the drunk whisperers” []

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1

A Quantitative Look at 1L Fall

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Dec 22, 2009 in The 1L Life

I shamelessly borrowed the concept for today’s post from this entry by Miss Julie Anne Ines (aka the Blawgirl), so if you haven’t checked out her segment of the intarwebs yet, please do so now because it’s Good Stuff™ :)

As my fellow Legal Eagles and I enjoy the agonizing wait for our grades — one section got their Contracts grades back; that section was not mine :mad: — it’s easy to forget just how far we’ve gone down the road to lawyerhood (attorneydom? JDness?).

So to illustrate the point, here’s a quantitative look at the semester :D

—===—

Number of pages read in Civil Procedure with MDG:
~238

—===—

Number of pages read in Torts with Professor Torts:
~360

—===—

Number of pages read in Contracts with Professor Ks:
~439

—===—

Number of pages read in Property with the Traveling Professor:
~187

—===—

Number of useless writing assignments in Legal Reasoning & Analysis:
11

—===—

Number of supplements consulted:
4 (an Emanuel’s for each class)

—===—

Number of visits to the law library since orientation:
-0- (see next item)

—===—

Number of searches on Lexis-Nexis:
212+

—===—

Number of Lexis-Nexis Points earned:
2,630

—===—

Number of times overheard swearing in class at WestLaw/TWEN’s poor website coding:
7+

—===—

Number of days waiting for grades:
12, and counting…

—===—

Imagine where we’ll be 5 more semesters from now :)

Have a great night folks!! :D

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-

Law school: 6.82% finished!

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Dec 2, 2009 in The 1L Life

The Property I final exam is in the bag :D

I left the law school feeling like I did yesterday — not sure how to feel about it. There were about a dozen questions (out of 60) that I highlighted to re-review since I wasn’t certain on the answers. Then the essay question was on adverse possession… of chattel. Also known as the one @#$%ing topic I didn’t study thoroughly because I figured (foolishly) there was no conceivable way The Traveling Professor1 could find enough issues to raise to justify picking that particular topic for an essay worth 40% of the final exam, especially when we covered adverse possession (of property) on the midterm.2

And of course after the exam everyone started chattering about the questions and the essay while we’re all waiting for the ExamSoft printouts, which made me question my answers even more, which made me do a mini-freakout in my mind since this was likely my easiest exam :beatup:

For the record, I agree with Mariel on Fight Club :P

The upside is that TTP follows the “self-curving exam” model mentioned at Fearfully Optimistic, and I knew enough of the easy and average questions that I already know I passed with at least a C. Add that in with the midterm performance and I’m looking at a minimum B- for the course — which is far better than my undergraduate GPA and, therefore, good enough for me ;)

Between Property I now being done and Legal Reasoning & Analysis behind me, that means 6 of 88 credit hours are knocked out… so I’m officially 6.82% done with law school :D

Celebrating tonight by catching up on Facebook activity and watching Law & Order reruns (Jack McCoy is my hero), then starting the Civil Procedure cramming process tomorrow.

Have a great night everybody! :)

  1. TTP for short. The nickname comes from the fact she lives in California, so she flies in Monday morning for MTW classes, then flies out Wednesday afternoon for the weekend. She’s an amazing professor but one of those folks where their soft-spoken nature makes them intimidating. If that makes sense. []
  2. Madame Prosecutor, by contrast, insisted adverse possession of chattel was going to be the essay topic. It agitates the @#$% out of me when she’s right… :mad: []

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9

Reflections on Week 1 of “real” class

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Aug 22, 2009 in Weekend Roundup

Thanks for the handful of panicked text messages I got from folks wondering if something was wrong because I hadn’t posted an entry for the night, I’m alive and well :)

Sorry for not posting something in a more timely fashion — my friend 雅雅 and I decided to try and replicate my grandmother’s recipe for spaghetti, and after eating a very large and tasty dinner (the experiment was a success) I ended up falling asleep.  Last thing I remember was watching “Locked and Loaded with R. Lee Ermey” on the History Channel, wondering where I put my laptop so I could write my post for the day… then my cell phone alarm going off at 6am >_<

 

Now that Week 1 of “real class” is finished, there are a few things I’ve realized so far:

  1. Law school isn’t nearly as bad as I expected.  I’m sure it will get worse throughout the semester, but looking at the reading lists the volume of material is easily readable and comprehensible for a typical law student (I can’t speak for non-traditional students like folks raising families or students working 20-hour a week jobs — y’all are better people than I am!)

  2. It’s also a lot of fun.  Having worked in a variety of law-related areas back when I was a college dropout, finally understanding the intricacies of the legal arguments I used to read in briefs or hear in oral arguments is like a bunch of little lightbulbs turning on in your head.  And having classmates who I know are smarter than I am makes the debates that much more fun because of the challenge.

  3. Legal Reasoning & Analysis is going to be my “love/hate” class.  The smaller class size in lab is great to see people’s thought processes up close (including who comes at things from a prosecutorial vs a defense mindset), but the way we’re being taught to break down the applicable rules and case law is totally conflicting with the Computer Scientist in me.  It reminds me of this Dos Equis commercial and “speaking French… in Russian.”  More on LRA in a later entry.

  4. Not sure if it was total coincidence or fate, but having the Gang of Eight in the back with me makes the whole experience that much more enjoyable.  If you’re a 1L, find some friends before everyone cliques up — you’ll be glad you did :)

  5. Even though a few more-seasoned students have told me I’m strange for it (including Delta the 2L), I genuinely like all of my professors. They’ve all got strikingly different personalities: Professor Contracts has a ton of energy for an early morning class and an excellent sense of humor, Mean Dean Green has a sarcastic streak almost as wide as mine, and you’ve already read about Professor Torts and her no-nonsense attitude. Throw in the Traveling Professor (my Property I teacher) and Professor LRA, and the group is providing a well-meshed experience for all of us.

  6. The mere possibility of being a good student again is an intense incentive to perform.  By my last couple semesters at N.C. State, I had so many credit hours between my Computer Science major and minors in Economics and Political Science that I could have failed every class and it wouldn’t  have significantly impacted my GPA… and could have gotten an A+ in all of them with similarly negligible effects.  That’s a recipe for the most hellacious case of senioritis one can experience.  Now I actually enjoying studying again (for now).

 

That’s it for this entry.  Going to take Saturday off and try to clean up the apartment a bit… including the spaghetti sauce I left on the stove after falling asleep last night.  Have a great day everybody! :D

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