Top 10 Things A (New) Law Student Should Know

06 Jun

A lot of new law students, especially those first time in law schools, will be coming in their respective orientation events. A lot of expectations and frustrations will also be established by then. For some, it will be a statement of  challenge and manifestation of acceptance. Just a point of information: If you are half-hearted in your choice, you may not make it until the end.

I was once a freshman a year ago. After a year of survival, I am confident that these tips, some if not all, will surely guide your first year in law school. Let us begin the countdown.

10. Read in advance.

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Nothing beats an advance reader. You can not be sure whether the first or second day of meeting will be purely orientation or a surprise class recitation. It will help a lot if you read in advance especially when you had an overload of cases and tasks. If none of the problems exists, your advance reading habit will be a foundation of better retention –  criteria for higher survival rate in law schools.

9. Always assume that there is a class meeting.


Most asked question by law students: “will there be a class meeting?” or “are there any (weather related) class suspensions?” #walangpasok

As early as a freshman law student, always assume that the class will meet no matter what. Do not anticipate professor’s absence, much less that there will be class suspensions. Not all law students have experienced to work. But if one did, there is no point in asking whether or not there will be a class meeting. You can’t ask that kind of thing with your boss. For everyone else, just treat it that way.

Sometimes, even if the class did not meet, the lessons are deemed taught. So it just adds to your burden. If you followed the class suspension which is not followed by some law schools, just read this: “Did I Miss Anything?”.

8. Make an impression, but don’t try to impress your professor.


The old saying “first impressions last” is still true. However, never overdo the “say something about yourself” part. Just speak of objective information and statement of fact. You may give some tolerable jokes to keep the class smiling. Never include in your short speech your academic achievements. Believe me, 90% of the class will take it all against you. Most professors (even fellow students) take it negatively. “So you graduated with honors? You think you are better than me? Let’s see about that in my class.”, says the irritated professor. Let your brilliance shine before the class naturally, and not by “opening all your cards on the table.” And besides, it is not that matters all in law school. Your only advantage will be your good study habit. There is no such thing as an excellent law student, just a prepared one.

7. Find at least 1 friend and 1 enemy.


You might find it weird but it actually works. You really need at least one friend, so in case you missed the dictation of cases and their citations, you can ask him/her during break time. Story telling also works as one of the most effective way of learning. You can have a better retention out of conversation than simply reading your books. You also need an enemy, but for motivation purposes only. What is our usual approach with an enemy? Whether it is to avoid or to confront, it gives us the motivation to do even better (to a point you have to beat your enemy). If you have one person you want to beat in the class, use it as a driving force and make sure your “silent war” with that person is worth every cent of your determination. But remember, your enemy is not the person but their capabilities.

6. Get used to the Socratic method.


Admit it. One of the unique features of law school is its Socratic method of teaching. You will spend your freshman year in adjusting from the usual classroom spoon-feeding approach to the “no holds barred” question and answer environment. It is a true test of advocacy, principles and readiness to answer the most absurd questions a professor might throw you. It is no laughing matter, but make sure you handle the situation with composure, or you will be the subject matter of talk on corners.

Yeah, it’s Socratic. But sometimes, it’s Sarcastic.

5. Listen before speaking.


Whenever on recitation, listen to the question very carefully. You need not a lengthy answer but if your one liner “hits the right note”, it is already an exclamation mark. How painstakingly you studied the subject and how profoundly you know the matter counts very little if you do not respond to the question with precision. It will appear to the professor that you are only “fishing” for the answer. Go straight to the point. But also make sure you are answering the question as stated. Analyze the facts and don’t go over or beyond it. It is nicer to hear the professor rephrasing the question after he/she realized the question is vague or incomplete, than the class hearing from the professor “your answer is not responsive”. Remember: listen carefully, pause a while, think, eyes on the professor, take a shallow breath, and then speak.

4. Don’t rely solely on case briefs or digests.


In most subjects, the professor ask students to study a series of Supreme Court decisions for recitation purposes. Every week, you are given 5-40 cases (per subject). Some of it required to be digested and submitted. When required to be submitted, it may be in own handwriting or computer printout. With this bulk of tasks, a student may not be able to comply in reading all the cases in full text, more in summarizing the facts, the issues, the ruling and the ratio decidendi (the reason behind the ruling). Students end up reading available case briefs or digests available online, and practically copying them. It’s a short term help but it’s a long term liability. No matter how impossible, still try and make it a habit to read and understand the case in full text. A test of a well comprehended case read is that you can tell its story upon reading the citation.

3. Research on the materials of your law professor.


This is a bit hard and might need the help of senior students who knows your professor as a former student. You can have from them lot of tips on how class discussions go, what are his/her favorite materials and what usually get his/her questions. It might help also to know where the professor graduated because he/she is usually attached to the review materials of his/her alma mater. Some professors give reference textbooks at the beginning of class for purposes of course syllabus, but they get their discussions and questions from other books or authors. Try to find out these variations. If you succeed in this “underground research”, you can save time in studying narrow regions of discussions and “speak in the language” pleasing to the professor.

2. Don’t let your grades define who you are.


Let me quote from one of law professors I admire for his principles. “Life is NOT fair”. Even the best person who deserves the best grade in the class is not immune from this fact. You will later hear stories of a candidate for distinction or latin honors losing their chance of recognition simply because a law professor gave him or her a failing mark without any basis. You think life is fair? NO. But do your best. When time comes you later become a victim of these kind of injustice, remember this quote, and move on. Define your own self and set your own standards. Rise because of your perseverance, not because of your grades. Let not yourself be misguided by any of the extremes of it – high or low. Grades are merely perceptions. They are only true if we will accept them unconditionally.

1. Learn the law in a grand manner.

This must be the primordial concern not only of the school, but of the students as well. “Grand manner” to me is knowing the philosophies and integrating the rule of law with one’s living, adhering with the principles of justice and equity by dictum of conscience. It is no less than knowing and applying the law in its entirety and not by piecemeal understanding. It is the very deepest of all doctrines but once conceived, it will guide a law student until his practice. It will flow naturally to his/her veins like blood. And as long as he/she lives, it will be part of a bigger universe of advocacy.

Take every subject as a step closer in graduating with a degree in law. Take every recitation, as if you are appearing before the courts of law. Take every exam as if you are answering the Bar Exams. If all of these fail, remember that it’s not the end of the world. Take every failure as an advantage in subsequent take. Not all situations are ideal, but a calm and positive take on failure is more than being ideal.

It’s a long and unstable journey ahead, but with the help of God, we can and we will survive.

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Posted by on June 6, 2013 in Personal


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