In lieu of currency and originality: the Lazy Law Student’s Guide to Succeeding at Law School

Posted on April 11, 2007

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I think of this article as my most significant life achievement. I got fan mail. Copyright Obiter Dicta 2006.

So, you’ve got your grades back. For upper-years, you’re probably experiencing that usual small twinge of pain. For first-years, this will be a blow from which your self-esteem is unlikely to recover (I know mine hasn’t, but mediocrity grows on you). For those students curled up with a tube of Pringles and a box of Kleenex and those of you who have realized that you actually want to see your friends before you graduate, this editorial is of the utmost importance.
Now, I am probably the least qualified person to tell anyone how to get good grades; I am completely unfamiliar with that phenomenon. But as a graduating third-year who is notoriously lazy, I have amassed from my own experience and that of others a wealth of wisdom on how to achieve solid Bs (or even As if you apply the method correctly) while avoiding the following: (1) that freak-out period at the end of the semester when you realize that if a gun was put to your temple, you would not be able to say what a s.10(b) right/fee simple/pragmatic and functional test is; and (2) actually reading, and indeed buying, those 257 trees’ worth of class materials.
Do not be fooled, however. The way to get the best grades remains, unfortunately, to do all the readings, and perhaps even make pre-class notes. This guide isn’t about that. This guide is about how to get satisfactory grades while maintaining a calm demeanour and an active TV-watching schedule. It’s a shame I didn’t perfect this system before now, when it’s too late. But you can!

Follow these steps conscientiously:

1. Prior to the beginning of a semester, shamelessly hassle other students, regardless of level of acquaintance, for their summaries. Target the anal ones first. Look for social handicaps and bad fashion sense, although that covers a lot of us, able or not. Download all the summaries for your courses from the summary website (er…when it’s back up) for every instructor, dating back two years. Peruse all of these summaries, although of course privately-obtained ones confer more of an advantage. Read a few cases and see which summary is the most detailed, concise and grammatical error-free (if you’re like me). If you are lucky enough to find one of those delightful individuals who makes both long and short summaries, embrace that person to your bosom.

2. When you have selected the best long summary, print it out. Oh yes. Do not begrudge those dollars. Don’t tell yourself that you’ll print it out at the end of the semester when you have edited and updated it. The possession of an unedited hard copy in the beginning of the semester is critical to the success of the (my name) method. Bind that shit.

3. Read the course syllabus carefully. This is important for figuring out early on the general overview of a subject, and is usually indicative of the basic analytical framework one uses in exams. Knowing this before you actually start learning the stuff is of vast help, and I really wish I’d figured it out earlier. If you have one of those short summaries or flowchart dealies, read it also. It tells you important things about what you need to learn and in what way it fits together. If profs would do a brief overview of the area of the law in the beginning instead of wasting our time with that “Why do we have ____ law?” and “The history of ___” bullshit, we’d be better off.

4. Before each class, read the assigned portion of your printed summary. The reason it needs to be printed out is that no one can adequately focus on large sections of writing while it is in a vertical format. This is a lesson that I have only just learned, and you’d better take it from me. Ensure that you actually go and read any new articles or cases the professor assigned (or the the Quicklaw summary of them).

5. Have your chosen summary open on your laptop in class. Having previously read it, you will be in a position to determine quickly as the class goes along what is missing from it. Add the missing bits. Delete the unnecessary and repetitive bits.

6. Two weeks before each exam, format your summary in your preferred way, ensuring that it is adequately updated. Print it out again. Print out the short summary also. Read the short summary and refer to the long summary when there are things you don’t quite get.

7. Do a practice exam in note form.

8. Bind and tab/index your summary.

9. Go get that B!

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Posted in: law school