Peter Duque De Estrada
: University of Texas - San Antonio
: Criminal Justice
: San Antonio, TX
: Full-Time Day
5/20/09 - This will be my last blog for the year. It’s hard to believe that I’ve finished a whole year of law school. When I began law school as a 1L, all that I was told was that it would be hard. Although they weren’t wrong about my first year being difficult, I don’t think “hard” would be the word to describe it. Readers of my blogs who are considering law school might think twice about applying when they hear it is hard. I think that people who have gone through the 1L experience at Texas Wesleyan and other law schools would agree with me that law school is hard, but most worthwhile things we attempt in life are hard.
In any law school you are provided with knowledgeable professors and textbooks to teach you the law, but on exam day it is up to you to have learned the skills needed to be successful in all of your courses. I heard somewhere that the law is a living thing – the law is always changing, and you need to be able to change and adapt with it. There are few absolute rules; everything depends on the situation and the prevailing wind in your jurisdiction. So, if you come to law school with an open mind, ready to embrace the fact that law school is more about learning theory than clear cut memorization of concepts, you will find law school to be quite enjoyable.
Would I have chosen to spend my year doing something else? No, my first year of law school has been an experience I will never forget. Texas Wesleyan has some of the best professors and overall human beings I have ever met. Everyone at this school seems to have a stake in every student’s success.
5/14/09 - Finals are over! My year as a 1L has come to an end. I am now unofficially a 2L. Technically, I finished all required course hours for 2L status when I finished my last final. However, until grades are released for the spring semester, it is not official.
So, as I wait until mid-June for grades to come in, I reflect on the past year. I don’t want to take this unforgettable experience lightly, but my 1L year was not as daunting an experience as detailed in One L by Scott Turow, nor as humiliating an experience as shown in The Paper Chase movie and book. However, by watching The Paper Chase and reading One L, I was prepared for the worst - which made what I found a big relief.
Your first year, you and your classmates are thrown into big lecture classes. This is not the norm in your 2L and 3L years, when you begin to specialize in smaller elective classes and explore areas of legal practice suited to your individual preferences. Your workload and schedule is no longer determined by the school during your 2L and 3L years, and you are free to figure out what kind of law you want to practice.
4/29/09 - The spring semester is over, and finals are around the corner. I am now dividing my study time between my four finals: civil procedure, criminal law, contracts and property. Finals will begin next Monday and end on May 14.
It has been a very eventful journey. In August, I began my law school career and now my first year is over. I feel I have been through so much that after finals, I probably will need time to digest it all. I feel that the law school experience has already started to affect me in positive ways. Law school changes the way one thinks and the way one learns. When I read something before law school, I did not absorb the amount of information I absorb now.
Regardless of how finals turnout I have completed a whole year of law school courses - 31 hours for those familiar with college hours. I joined Texas Wesleyan School of Law organizations such as the Student Bar Association, Hispanic Law School Association, Christian Legal Society, Federalist Society and Intellectual Property Legal Association. I embraced the law school experience and Texas Wesleyan embraced me, as well. The local legal community, both the Tarrant County Bar Association and Dallas Bar Association, welcomed me as I joined both bar associations and their Intellectual Property Sections under their law student divisions.
4/22/09 – As I approach the end of the final week of the semester, I am finally starting to breathe a little easier – the brief is due tomorrow. I have been working hard on finishing outlines and doing sample questions. Memos and trial briefs are all turned in. I had a citation exam this week for legal writing and our last writing class for the semester.
Earlier this week we registered for our upcoming fall classes. As 2Ls we will have more choices in our schedules - most of our required courses were taken as a 1L. Next fall, constitutional law is a required course for all full-time 2Ls. For the first year of law school, all daytime 1Ls have been divided into two sections. Next year the 2Ls will be separated and classes will be further divided and mixed. My section in constitutional law will be a mix of my current classmates and students from the other 1L section.
In addition to constitutional law, we will all be required to take a few advanced courses. I hope I might see some my 1L friends in those other classes. I have gotten close to some of the 1Ls in my section and would not have gotten though this semester without them.
4/15/09 – The last weeks of the semester are spent attending last lectures. Final memos have all been turned in for our legal research and writing classes, and last week we presented oral arguments based on our trial briefs. Next week we have our final legal research and writing class for the semester. We still have one more week of regular classes before finals. I’m looking forward to finals because I am looking forward to next semester’s classes.
The first year of law school is spent taking basic classes in a schedule determined by the law school. As a 2L, I will have the ability to choose my own schedule. Even though there are still lockstep courses and advanced courses which I must take before graduation, I have more flexibility as to when I have to take these classes.
With the exception of constitutional law (the lockstep course that most 2Ls will take next fall), the rest of our schedule is pretty flexible. Some of my fellow classmates will take required advanced courses next semester, others will take classes to prepare for the bar exam, and some will take classes they feel will help them in their chosen area of law. Since my chosen area is entertainment law I plan on taking classes like sports law in the fall and entertainment law in the summer.
4/8/09 - I'm starting to breathe a little easier as the brief is due tomorrow. In our classrooms, it is clear that many students are not present because they are working on their trial briefs. So much of law school is about time management - I’m not sure skipping class to work on a brief is the right way to go. Professors stated as much after class, but I have noticed this pattern with every writing assignment we 1Ls have had so far.
I have to admit that I am guilty of this habit, too. After having finished my brief last weekend, I had it in my head that more research and rewriting would improve my brief. It is so easy to get tunnel vision and think that your time is better spent writing a good brief than attending a lecture. I don’t know where this idea comes from; the brief is just one assignment in legal research and writing, whereas skipping class to work on it might make you miss an important concept that builds on an important rule in a substantive law class.
One professor told me to take the brief seriously but not at the sake of other classes. A brief is what a lawyer files to the court, but you have to be a lawyer before you can file a brief. On our finals, professors are going to expect us to know the rules of law rather than knowing how to write a brief. There are no complex legal writing paradigms involved in our finals.
4/1/09 - I have been working hard on my trial brief, which is due on April 9. The trial brief will be the 1Ls last writing assignment in legal research and writing II. I hope to do well on the assignment and am looking forward to finishing my legal writing requirements.
Most people have heard that law school indoctrinates students into the legal system. Some have heard of the dreaded Socratic method that teaches students to change their thinking and analysis. But what is not discussed as frequently is legal research and writing, the class that teaches law students to write as lawyers.
The style of writing taught in this class is often unfamiliar to students. In the past, I have written in a variety of formats - college essays in different citation formats, books, poetry, and scripts. However, the writing in law school seems counterintuitive to me. In college, I wrote research essays where the conclusion came at the end of the paper. Books, poetry, and scripts are also often more linear - half the fun for the reader is the journey to the conclusion at the end. A legal memo or brief requires a conclusion at the beginning, and you must cite references for everything you argue. The audience for legal writing wants to be aware of your conclusion initially, see your support for your conclusion, and finally see your conclusion again.
3/25/09 – Back from spring break and back into the mix. We have a little over a month left, and I can see the horizon. Is it really greener? The 2Ls and 3Ls do seem to be more relaxed.
The first year consists of core classes which upperclassmen have already taken. Maybe they are just over the shock, while I and my fellow 1Ls are just shell shocked. I asked an upperclassman how it was going the other day and they said “it’s going.” I guess that’s all one can expect - things continue to move, the work load keeps coming and if we remain stalled we can become overwhelmed. I do not mean to sound grim, but the reality is that law school is school - just like undergrad, there are times when we all need a break when the workload becomes too burdensome.
Over spring break, a friend asked me why I had lost my passion for the law. Like most things in life worth doing, there are times in law school when you question your resolve and whether it is worth pursuing. I did some soul searching over spring break, and I’ll let you know what I decide at the end of the semester. In the meantime, I have to keep going. I can only say that if I can find the strength to finish this semester with the same passion I had at the beginning of the year, my resolve will be much stronger.
3/11/09 – Before law school, many of my family and friends warned me about how difficult it would be. “You won’t be able to have a life,” they said. When I came to orientation at Texas Wesleyan, current students also cautioned us about the difficulty of law school and the great sacrifice it required.
Ironically, at the end of the orientation Texas Wesleyan offered new students the opportunity to meet with and join various student organizations. I found this very puzzling, since a lot of people were saying that you had to dedicate all of your time to studying for school. In a tough atmosphere, how can student organizations flourish and obtain membership?
Balance is the key, as our academic support representative told us. Our goal in law school is to: 1) get through law school, 2) pass the state licensing BAR exam, 3) and find a job. Students organizations help with all three tasks - meeting and talking to a variety of other law students has helped me deal with stress, learn which classes to take for the BAR and have opportunities to network with people in the legal community that might help with my job search.
Succeeding in law school is still a matter of time management. At times I have overextended myself, and a few friends have had to drop out of organizations this semester because it was taking up too much of their time. Getting through law school is first, but law school is more than studying.
3/4/09 – We’re not in Kansas anymore, Dorothy. I have to admit - when I started law school I figured that I would just concentrate on the challenge of getting through law school, and I’d worry about the Texas Bar licensing exam and looking for a legal job after I graduated. Perhaps I thought this way because I never thought I’d get through three years of law school. I did not want to look that far ahead.
Last week, academic support provided a seminar on planning for taking the bar, which was geared toward both 1Ls and upperclassmen. All of the courses Texas Wesleyan offers, from the first year to the last, help prepare for the bar. We have also had seminars conducted by career services on finding jobs after we graduate and gaining experience while in law school.
I hadn’t started thinking about those issues yet, but my first year is going by so quickly. I will be picking my courses for this summer and next fall very soon. I am thinking about seeking out work experience by interning at various law offices in the surrounding areas. I have found that Texas Wesleyan provides a variety of services to help me decide on my course of study and my career plans through academic support, career services, and meeting with the deans.
2/25/09 – With our memos turned in, many 1Ls are now catching up on their outlines and course work. Some had spent minimal time preparing for and attending class so they could focus on their memos, while others had stopped studying and going to class altogether.
I followed the first path - I read the cases and attended all my classes despite having a memo to write. Although I would have loved to spend extra time on the memo, it didn’t seem to make much sense to me. The memo assignment was just one grade in a three credit hour course - if you don’t do well on the memo you will still have other chances to improve on other research assignments later in the semester. However, in all of our other classes there is only one exam - if you fail to learn highly tested concepts you might end up with a low final grade.
I think the main character in The Paper Chase gives a very accurate description of law school. Some students are overachievers who read even more than the assigned reading and volunteer to speak in class. There are also students who do only the assigned reading and prepare just enough in case they are called on. Others do nothing and pray that they will not be called on.
2/18/09 – Got my memo done - now life can begin. So much of your law school life is rearranged by a simple memo assignment.
I have been guilty of living in the library these past few weeks, from the time we received our memo assignment until we turn it in tomorrow. I could see the panic set in as my fellow students scrambled to find cases pertaining to the memo assignment and wondered if they had found the right case. A lot of prioritizing goes into finding the best case since you might find a lot of cases which say nearly identical things. You also have to make sure that you use the cases in your district or circuit.
Even though law school teaches you how to do research, everyone develops their own plan of attack. One plan is just as good as another as long as your memo gets written. While they are scrambling to find cases, a lot of people forget to schedule time to actually write the memo. As I began to write my memo, I realized that I had written 12 pages for a 10-page memo assignment; and as I scrambled to finish, I wished that I had given myself more time to tighten up the memo.
2/11/09 – Law school provides a chance to discuss controversial issues in a forum that encourages different viewpoints. I appreciate this unique opportunity - when I’ve tried to have similar discussions with family and friends, they thought I was just trying to cause trouble. I wouldn’t recommend transferring this aspect of law school into your daily lives since many people aren’t used to being tested on their beliefs.
The first time I asked my mom why she held a certain belief, she looked at me funny. I’ve always known my mom well, but I had never asked her to explain any of her viewpoints - I guess both of us were shocked. When my mom began explaining to me the basis of her beliefs, I found myself pulling the classic law school trick of questioning her on the merits of her reasoning. Not a good idea by the way. There are times and places for such discussions, and I have found that although law school teaches us to think and act rationally, much of life is not “rational.”
My mom and friends are willing to accept their own beliefs on an emotional level, not through logical merit analysis like we learn at law school. Because of law school, I do feel I now know myself better - I am examining my own beliefs. And after all, isn’t knowing oneself the most important thing? Shakespeare once wrote, “To thine own self be true.”
2/5/09 - Now that this semester is in full swing, I’m gaining more confidence. I have had the opportunity to meet with my professors and discuss ways to improve my performance this semester. I appreciate that all of my professors are so available to all of their students, especially since my grades were in the top half of the class. Other classmates from my section who had strong grades did not take advantage of the opportunity to discuss their exams. I think it is important for me to understand ways I can improve, as well as any good habits I formed last semester that I should keep up.
I’m not sure that I would have had the same opportunity, had I chosen to go to another law school. I’m sure professors at some schools offer reviews of their exams, but I’m not sure if they would have made themselves as available as our professors. It seems that Texas Wesleyan is committed to helping students.
- There is excitement in Fort Worth this week that I just don’t have in San Antonio. I had a little break this week - due to the weather conditions, classes were canceled on Tuesday. I caught up on studying for all of my classes. There was still snow and ice when classes began again on Wednesday, but most people were able to make it to school anyway. Some of my classmates in Dallas and the surrounding areas still weren’t able to travel to class.
Now that classes have begun again, professors are offering office hours to allow students to go over last semester’s exams. Reviewing your past test is optional, but since I have most of the same professors and classes again this semester, I decided to sign up to review my exams one on one with all my professors. I hope to score above average on my exams this semester. My professors offered good advice, and I learned a lot about what I need to do to improve my study habits for this next semester. My professors seemed confident that I can be successful.
- The semester is underway and I am getting into the swing of things once again. I made a few New Year’s resolutions regarding this semester, and so far I’m sticking to them. I realize that there are certain things I can do to improve my grades this semester, and I am going to try to do them.
I didn’t get the hang of briefing until halfway through last semester. Now, I understand the best method of briefing for each of my courses and professors. In property class, the professor wants you to brief the final state of the property, and apply the case to other situations. Contracts is more uniform and rule-based than property, and less based on situation and intent. Our property professor pointed this out last semester when we experienced contract law crossing over to property law.
- Well I’m back for another semester. Not sure if that is a good thing. Ask me again at the end of the semester. I suppose I survived my first semester of law school with minimum casualties. The biggest casualty was my ego.
I have to admit there were three subjects at the beginning of last semester which I thought would be my best courses grade-wise. I thought of myself as a writer, so I looked forward to legal research and writing. There were also two classes last semester I thought I had the background to do well in: contracts and torts. I soon realized that I would not be able to sail through writing class, but thought I would still do great in contracts and torts. Additionally, I had no idea what civil procedure or property entailed, and by the end of the semester I felt I still didn’t seem to have a clue. To my surprise, my best grades were in civil procedure and property.
It’s funny to me, but it seems that when I don’t understand something I tend to study more. In my quest to understand, I ended up doing great on my finals in those classes. However, if I understand something, I may become lazy and not put in the same amount of work.
- This is my last blog for this semester. My first semester at Texas Wesleyan is over. It has been a great experience and I’d like to thank Texas Wesleyan for the opportunity. At first it was an adventure in navigating the Socratic method of in-class participation, learning how to brief cases, and learning how to study for law school finals. It was a process learning how to write legal memorandums. Yet, I made it through the semester. I trust I have done well on my finals and look forward to next semester.
Next semester I will have part II of property, contracts, legal writing and research, and civil procedure. In addition, since torts is only a one semester course, I will have a new class - criminal procedure. I look forward to the new class as well as continuing the course work of my current classes next semester.
I enjoyed interacting with the other students last semester and like the services Texas Wesleyan to help students succeed. Through academic support I met weekly with a 2L who provided me with his own personal experiences from his first year, as well as skills to succeed in briefing cases, handling Socratic method lectures, and outlining and studying for finals. The last month of the semester I was introduced to career services and the tools Texas Wesleyan offers to help their students obtain jobs. I look forward to looking for an internship for the spring semester through career services.
– This week final exams began. On Monday I took a three hour civil procedure test at 9 a.m., and on Thursday I have another three-hour exam at 9 a.m. Next week I will have a four-hour torts test on Monday at 9 a.m., and my last exam will be property next Thursday at 9 a.m. I’m not sure how well I did or will do on my exams. I’m just hoping I pass and make it through the experience.
The civil procedure test was a 100-question multiple choice exam, and my Thursday contracts test will be a mixture of multiple choice questions and an essay. The exam in torts will be similar to my contracts test, in that it will most likely be multiple choice and essay. Property, on the other hand, might not include a big essay, but might be composed of short answers.
I spent my Thanksgiving break studying every bar review book I could get my hands on in addition to spending time with my family. Now that I’m back in Fort Worth away from my family, I am continuing to study everything I can get my hands on. Unlike undergraduate tests, law school exams are more about applying rules to situations rather than reciting rules to your professor. So I’ve done as many sample questions as I can and hopefully I’m prepared.
– As the last week commences, professors are finishing their syllabi, which seemed like a difficult task when the semester began. Professors also try to hurriedly cram more knowledge into the heads of their students. Finals are approaching on the first of December, and I’m starting to feel like an athlete must feel as game day approaches.
Like athletes who have been prepared for game day by their coaches, our professors have tried to prepare us for finals. In sports, there are good coaches who can motivate and get the best out of their athletes; there are also good professors who motivate their students to learn an area of law. There are, however, athletes and students who can motivate themselves to excel. I feel like my professors have provided me with a lot of tools to succeed on my finals. But just having the tools will not guarantee success - as one commercial outline stated, “Success on finals involves not merely knowing rules of law but knowing how to apply them to situations.”
When my cousin was in middle school he memorized Einstein’s theory of relativity and he walked around saying “Einstein’s theory of relativity is …” Although everybody else seemed to ignore these rantings, I asked my cousin, “What does Einstein’s theory mean?” My cousin looked at me for a while, and finally responded - “It’s Einstein’s theory.” I miss those days when I could just reproduce what I had memorized on a test without having to explain what it meant.
– We are approaching the final full week of classes, and I am excited to be done with my first semester of law school. I have plans to go back home to San Antonio for Thanksgiving week, and I am looking forward to seeing family and friends. But I am a little worried I might not be doing the right thing by going home. Our finals start the Monday after Thanksgiving, and many of my fellow 1Ls are staying in Fort Worth during Thanksgiving. Who knows? Maybe being around friends and family in my hometown will help me destress as I study for finals.
I have taken all of the practice tests offered by Texas Wesleyan Law’s academic support, so I at least have some idea of what to expect on my exams. Next week, some of the professors are offering review sessions to help us prepare for finals. While some professors are ahead in their syllabus, and have marked out time for a formal review, other professors have us working on learning new material until the end of the semester.
My final memo assignment will be due Tuesday. Then, after a citation test on Thursday, I will be done with Legal Writing for the semester. There will not be a final exam in legal writing as our memos and citation test make up our grade. I’ll be so glad to be done with legal writing for the semester, so that I can concentrate on my finals in other classes. Much to do before then.
- I had a short week this week, since I didn’t have class at all on Tuesday and Thursday. Instead, on Tuesday I had an individual writing conference with my legal research and writing professor, got finger printed and met with my academic support section.
On Monday and Wednesday, classes followed the same pattern - torts, property, and contracts. Thursday I had my second review for property conducted by my property professor and a contracts practice test conducted by academic support. Next week is my last practice test in civil procedure.
The short week has allowed me extra time to work on my second memo and class outlines. I have always been working on sample multiple choice questions in torts, contracts and property. Two weeks remain in the semester and then finals will begin on December 1. Our last day of class will be the 24 of November.
– Can’t believe how fast this semester is going - only three more weeks of school. I have three practice tests under my belt now: a contracts practice test, torts practice test, and property practice test. And I also have received back my first memo assignment. So, at least now I have some idea of what the final test formats might be. As a result, much of the mystery may be gone. However, I still have much work to do to prepare.
I’ve been working on keeping up with my outlines for my courses and have started answering sample questions from a PMBR book, but still have much to do to prepare for exams. Finals will begin the Monday after Thanksgiving. I am looking forward to going home for Thanksgiving but probably won’t have much time to spend with my family since exams will begin so soon. Yet, I can hardly contain myself at the anticipation of going home to see my family and the semester ending.
Earlier this week we received our spring schedules, and many of the same courses I have this semester I will have next semester. I will still have property, contracts, legal research and writing, and civil procedure next semester, with the same professors at the same times and days. Yet, I will also have a new class - criminal law - with a new professor next semester. I am excited to be taking criminal law. As a criminal justice major in undergrad, I will likely feel more at home.
– I received my second memo assignment on Tuesday. I am now working on the memo, reading, and case briefing for my other courses, as well as studying for a practice exam in property. The first draft of the memo will be due next Thursday and the property practice test will be next Wednesday.
The property practice exam seems to be a lot different from the torts practice exam - torts consisted of one giant hypothetical situation in which we had to write an essay explaining a person’s claims of negligence for injuries received as a result of another person’s conduct. Our property final exam, according to our professor, is going to consist of mainly multiple choice and short answer questions, rather than one big hypothetical. The content of the property class translates more easily into a multiple choice test because it involves a series of math-like problems similar to the logical reasoning section of the LSAT.
Our property professor has switched from the Socratic Method to teaching through lectures. Like our math professors from undergrad, our professor lectures on a concept, puts problems on the white board for volunteers to solve, and leads class discussion on the answers.
– I was so relieved to finally turn in my first graded memo on Tuesday. Completing the memo was a stressful ordeal, but I am so glad that I got it done. The memo covered a lot of new concepts, and a writing style that I had not encountered before. Now that I have turned in the memo, I have maybe a week or two before my next memo assignment. I have to stay current on my outlines for my classes and prepare for finals.
In our academic support sessions, we have finished discussing how to answer essay questions, and have begun discussing multiple choice questions. Like the essay questions, these multiple choice questions are different from the ones we knew in undergrad. We are learning how to navigate these questions through academic support. We are preparing for these types of questions by answering practice questions from KAPLAN PMBR books and BARBRI books - books designed to help with bar review after law school. I already have begun compiling and answering an assortment of sample questions from a number of sources.
Another of our methods of preparation for these new question formats is taking practice tests administered by academic support. On Thursday I will have my first practice exam - Torts. On Wednesday we had a faculty panel, during which we were able to ask professors questions about each of their exams, and learn about their suggested test-taking strategies. It’s hard to believe that in one month the semester will be over.
– We had a practice test in contracts on Monday and our professor went over the exam in class on Wednesday. It was my first taste of a law school exam. The exam consisted of one essay-type question and two multiple choice questions. The essay involved a rather complex hypothetical situation in which we had to decide if an enforceable contract existed. However, the answer to the essay wasn’t as simple as “yes or no” - we had to discuss and apply the relevant legal concepts we have covered in class so far.
On Monday we were given the exam during our normal class time. On Wednesday our professor went over the areas of contracts involved in the hypothetical situation, and we were allowed to ask questions. I liked that our professor provided the opportunity to take a practice test, and made sure to go over the test in class. Although there are other practice tests provided by academic support, this test was written by our contracts professor as a former final exam. Our professor required everyone in the class to take it. We are not required to take the practice tests given by academic support.
I have also been working hard on the final draft of my first memo in legal writing. The first part of the memo wasn’t graded, but we did have to turn it in. Our professor later returned it with comments.
- A month into the semester, I’m starting to get the hang of my courses. Got my first memo assignment back and I didn’t do as well as I hoped. Legal writing is different from all the other types of writing I’ve done. There is a strict formula to it, but I’m sure it gets easier once you can get a handle on the formula. At least, I hope it gets easier. Later this week, we will get the second part of our first memo return, and although the first part was not graded, I still have much to fix in the memo. In just two weeks the entire memo will be graded.
Also, next week I have a practice test in my contracts class that will give me a taste of what to expect on the final in contracts and my other classes. The practice test will be administered by the professor and my other tests will be administered through academic support. I’m anxious to see what a law school exam entails. Through my professors and academic support, I have been learning the techniques and mechanics of exams. For the past few weeks, I have truly begun the often painstaking task of turning my case briefs and notes for classes into outlines; that will help me study for practice tests and final exams.
I can’t believe how fast this semester is going. I’ve already been in school over a month.
- As the semester progresses, I wonder if I’m learning what I need to learn for the final exams in December. In December, I will have an exam in contracts, torts, civil procedure and property which will consist of 100 percent of our grade. So I wonder how I know that I am learning what I will need to know for my final exams. In order to help 1Ls succeed in their first year, the school has arranged for each legal research section to be provided with academic support personnel, upper-level law students who offer their personal experiences as well as other strategies for success.
This week we are learning how to take law school exams - before that we covered studying for law school exams. When we covered studying for exams, the issues of briefing and outlining were brought up. Briefing seems to be a good tool for me in remembering the facts and issues in a case in preparation of being called on in class. However, the question remains on whether outlining should be done. Academic support is a big advocate of outlining. The goal after briefing is to take those briefs and turn them into an outline which will help us study for exams. Outlining for me the last couple of weeks has not been an easy task. I find it hard to take the important aspects of a case and transfer it into an outline, because I’m afraid I might leave out important details needed.
- In addition to your required case books, bookstores will try to sell you hornbooks - books containing commercial outlines and restatements of law. Although professors officially discourage hornbooks, they were once law students and may have used hornbooks themselves, so they know that students might use them. Their reason for discouraging them is to discourage their overuse, as they are no substitute for the assigned case book and their lectures.
My torts and property professors have recommended hornbooks as outside reading in their syllabi. My contracts professor actually quoted from a hornbook one day, and showed the book to the class. I have found that, should you need a hornbook, they are available in the library. Some hornbooks are actually on reserve by the professor in the library, and can be checked out for a couple of hours. Other can be checked out for a couple of weeks.
In addition to hornbooks, I have found that the actual case books required for class can be found in the library, though not all can be checked out. This is a useful tip, since my first year's books cost me a small fortune, and the only thing I bought that wasn’t officially required was Black’s Law Dictionary software for my laptop. Oh, that reminds me - at some point you will most likely need a law dictionary. Often you may encounter a word that you don’t know the “legal” definition of, which may be different than the normal dictionary definition.
- My mom gave me some advice before I left for law school. She said not to become a hermit or shut-in. I do have the tendency to over-study and revolve my life around my studies, as I did in undergrad. Yet I had to make sacrifices: not drinking and really not having any sort of relationships.
As I begin law school, I am determined to find a good mix. And so far it really isn’t that hard, as the law school is really accommodating. Most organizations meet from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m., a time in which, as a day student, you have a break in your schedule, and the organizations usually have budgets to provide free food to its members during those meetings. The only drawback is that it has mostly been pizza, although a few of the elite organizations do have money for better food. I know one week I had meetings during my lunch hour the whole week, so I had pizza every single day that week.
The nice thing about the organizations on campus is that they appeal to the interests of people in a variety of areas, such as serving as supplements to an area of law you might want to practice in or meeting a more wholesome goal. I am involved in the Student Bar Association as a first year representative, Federalist Law Society, Christian Law Society, Hispanic Law Society, and Intellectual Property.
I'm getting into the swing of things, so far so good. I'm learning how to study for classes and brief cases. Unlike undergrad, you can't just memorize details and facts; you have to distinguish which details and facts are relevant, and then from that pull out what the rules of law are. In law school, you're not reading textbooks like undergrad that declare, “Here is what is important.” Furthermore, you might read a long case and pull out a lot of facts that you feel are important; yet, the next day the professor may not spend a lot of time on a case, because he feels only a small portion of it is important. In that situation, it's important to note that the longest cases may not have the most substance to the scheme of a course.
Haven't received my first writing assignment for legal research yet. They say you're not a 1L until you receive that first writing assignment, and have to balance your homework for the other courses with the intense demand the writing assignments require. Not sure if that's true. Yet, I did receive a writing diagnostic on the first day of class, and was shocked when I received it back with a lot of red marks from the professor. I have done a lot of writing in various forms: poetry, fiction, screenwriting (writing and producing short and feature films). Fortunately, it wasn't graded and served as an assessment of our current writing ability.
- Some classes are taught in the dreaded Socratic Method, where the professor calls on individuals at random to recite the facts of cases and rules of law derived from the case reading. I personally like it, from what I have seen. It keeps me engaged and alert. I will tune out of a lecture unless I feel a connection to the topic. I also like that someone is going to ask me not only to recite a case but my thoughts on the law. Not only is it a part of the learning process, but it helps get us thinking like lawyers.
I haven’t run into those extremely longwinded cases that take up pages and pages, and you have to scramble to dissect them before the next class. Maybe I’ve been lucky or maybe they were just horror stories meant to scare me. Honestly, the homework load is more than undergrad; but if you manage your time well and read the cases assigned before class, the discussions are really enjoyable, so far.
Property has been my most interesting and hard-to-dissect course. The first cases were written in the 1700s and 1800s in old English, and as an ex-English major I thought the poetry of the language in the opinions was pretty cool. One case revolved around two men fighting over the property rights to a dead fox, to which the court said, “We want to encourage more dead foxes.” Never thought I’d be learning about hunting in law school.
- The anticipation is over. I have been looking forward to the start of the semester. I’m one of those people that craves a challenge, and from what I’ve heard, law school is a challenge.
August 14-16 I attended an orientation. It was cool, but I kept saying to myself, “Come on, it can’t be that bad.” The panel of students and faculty were trying to prepare students on what to expect and how to handle problems that may arise. However, I’m one of those guys that says, “Come on enough talk, let me do it already. Let me experience it for myself.” Yet, I’m also the guy who throws out the instructions and then five minutes later is digging for them in the trash can. One current student on a panel said that she told others how bad things were going to be ahead of time so when school started, there were no surprises. I get that theory when applied to the orientation, but by taking away the surprises and allure of law school, out goes the fun. LOL.
This week, I begin my first week of class. As a 1L, all my classes and schedule were prearranged for me. Thank you Texas Wesleyan, I like having things laid out for me. It makes me feel special. I just wish my entire three years would be prearranged, including grades. I do have to choose my own schedule later, but for now let me rest in this state of bliss.