Outlining and Flash Cards in Law School

For many law students, the new semester starts Tuesday, if it hasn’t already. That means if you’re like me, you are probably spending the weekend knocking out the first week reading assignments. I notice that each semester I make some minor tweaks to my studying routine.

Some I soon shed (trying to keep notes in OneNote). While others prove so effective that I make them part of my permanent routine.

Two things I changed last semester that I intend to make part of my routine going forward are how I outline and the use of flash cards. These two are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, they work hand-in-hand.

First, the purpose of law school is not to memorize the law, but rather learn how to apply it. It’s imperative to keep this in mind as you study and work throughout the semester. I don’t know any attorney who trusts their memory enough to rely on it when dealing with statutes, laws, or case law. Instead, they rely on the skills they learned in legal research to look up these elements and then use the skills they learned in other law school courses to apply them.

With that said, the purpose of a law school outline is to compress a large volume of often dense material into something you can hopefully remember and apply come exam time. My 1L year, I used outlines provided by Barbri and Themis to form the skeleton of my outlines. I then supplemented these outlines with my notes from lectures and reading. In the end, my outlines felt very clunky and I found it difficult to really use the outline effectively for anything other than a simple list of elements. Knowing the elements is only part of the battle. A good outline should also help you remember how to apply these elements.

How do you accomplish this?

First, do the work. While you might be tempted to use a third-party outline, like I did my 1L year, I recommend that you do not, and instead build your outline from scratch. Open your textbook, look at the table of contents (law school and the practice of law might be the only two places where table of contents matter), use the chapter/section headings as your starting point. Then fill it in as you read.

Here is where my suggestions may veer from traditional law school blogs and books. You don’t have to brief all your cases, but instead figure out how each case fits into the section the editor has assigned it. Include a brief case summary in your outline and why that case fits in that particular section of the book.

At this point, you do not need to worry too much about applying the elements correctly. In fact, learning to correct your mistakes is one of the best ways to learn. Just get your thoughts down on the outline. Then use your outline to apply what you have learned to problems, either by using Q&A books or consulting supplemental materials. Personally, I am a big fan of the Glannon Guides, which provide a broad overview of legal topic and then test you with multiple choice questions. There are Glannon Guides for almost every 1L and 2L course.

If you find that your outline helps you answer the questions, then you probably have a pretty good start and just need to beef it up.

If you’re relying on your outline and missing questions, you probably need to do some more serious work. Again, we learn from our mistakes.

As the semester progresses, you can use your outline to help put together your flash cards. Again, third-parties, always eager to make a buck off law students, offer a wide range of flashcards for law students, priced anywhere from $10-150. Save your money! You can make your own flashcards with index cards.

A sample of the flash cards I created for my Crim Law class last semester.

If you look above at the cards I created for my Crim Law course last semester, you will see that I create my index cards with the application of various elements in mind. Specifically, I want to be able to IRAC each of these elements. For example, I have an index card that reads “Larceny.” On the back it reads:

In order to convict for larceny, the prosecution must establish five elements. There must be the (1) intentional taking and carrying away (2) of personal property (3) in the possession or presence of another (4) without consent (5) with intent to permanently deprive another of their property.

I then made similar cards for “Intentionally Took and Carried Away;” “Personal Property;” “In possession of another person;” “Without consent;” and “Intent to permanently deprive of property,” where I IRAC each of these subelements.

This proved extremely efficient for my Crim Law class, as I was able to quickly recall and apply all of the elements for crimes and defenses. As a result, I finished a 3 hour final in about an hour.

I cannot guarantee that these strategies will work for you, but they certainly helped me have a great Fall semester and I look forward to using them in my classes this spring and I begin my preparations for the bar exam.

Nontraditional Law Student Myth #2: The Curve

Prior to beginning my 1L year, our entire class participated in a week-long orientation program. We spent a lot of that time listening to other attorneys share stories about law school and how they managed to survive. Almost all of them talked about the difficulty of having one graded assignment and, if that wasn’t tough enough, battling “the curve.” Almost every law school prep book I have read spends a considerable amount of time tackling these two topics as well.

Fortunately for me, I haven’t had to deal with either. At UNT-Dallas College of Law, there is no curve. Instead, each student gets the grade her or she earns. If forty students earn an A, then all forty students get the A. In addition to promoting fairness, eliminating the curve also removes some of the drama that arises in other law schools.

It’s no secret that law schools are filled with a lot of Type-A personalities that are used to being the best in whatever they try. It should not come as a shock to anyone that when you mix these volatile personalities together and you ask them to compete with each other for a finite amount of “good grades,” that these same students will not also play nicely with one another.I have read stories of students at other law school sabotaging their fellow students in order to battle the curve. Unfortunately, it’s a hard habit to break and many attorneys continue to operate this way when they begin their practice.

We have none of that at UNT-Dallas.

More importantly, at UNT-Dallas, all classes have multiple graded assignments, so you if you happen to have a hiccup on your final, you are not doomed. Every class has a midterm and graded quizzes. In Torts, I made a C on my final, but still made ended with a B+ in the class because of my grades on the midterm and quizzes.

My Property class had a quiz every class. While not all classes have that many quizzes, every class I have taken so far has had at least 5 quizzes, which in the end account for about 10% of the final grade.

It’s just another way we are doing things differently at UNT-Dallas.

Nontraditional Law Student Myth # 1: “Part-Time” Student

The ABA recently released their digital awards for 2017, including awards to the best legal podcasts. One of the winners, Law School Toolbox, is a podcast and website geared specifically towards law students, so I have been going through listening to old episodes and scouring the companion website, trying to see if I could find any episodes relevant to my own experiences. The first podcast I downloaded concerned “nontraditional law students” and I was curious to see how they treated the subject.

A little background. The podcast founders and hosts, Lee Burgess and Alison Monahan, appear to have been “traditional” students in law school. They both attended day-time programs at top-tier law schools. Based on their bios, they both attended law school in their 20’s before firmly establishing a career or family. They clerked for federal judges and worked at large law firms, so I will admit I was a little curious what these two traditional attorneys knew about the “nontraditional” law student.

Turns out they have a very broad understanding that “nontraditional” law students exist. That is they recognize some law students attend class in the evening, work during the day, some may have families, and some may even put off law school until their late 20’s <gasp> (I’m sure it would really blow their mind there are folks like me, approaching 40 or even older, attending law school). For the most part, they fail to really provide any insight into the true value of a  “nontraditional” law student or give any feedback on how a “nontraditional” student can thrive in a law school environment. More importantly, they do little to eradicate any of the misconceptions about the nontraditional law student.

I point this out not to criticize Law School Toolbox–Alison and Lee have a great website and podcast worthy of all the accolades and awards–but rather as a reminder to myself that I need to do a better job with this blog of doing those very things, so let’s begin with busting myth #1 about “nontraditional” law students–the “part-time” student myth.

I will accept the label “nontraditional” student, but I will not accept the label “part-time” student. Yet, almost all law schools with an evening program refer to their evening students as “part-time” students. I get it. This for financial aide purposes, but it creates the myth that we are doing half the work or less of the traditional law student.

My 1L year, I completed 23 hours of credit. That’s nearly 12 hours a semester, while working 40+ hours a week and raising a family. There is nothing part-time about this schedule. We read the same amount of cases, write the same amount of papers, and take the same exams as day-time counterparts. Our classes just happen to be at night and spread across 4-years as opposed to 3-years. The ABA requires law schools to treat daytime and nighttime students the same, so please refer to us as such and not “part-time.”

 

 

 

 

Why We Outline

The word “outline” means something completely different when you are in law school. Before starting law school, “outlines” were the things I avoided in my writing classes because I thought I didn’t need them. In law school, outlines are what allow me to take information in the photo above and compress into the document below.

Think of outlines as a compression agent for all the information in your class. The outline condenses all the material from class into a single, easy to manage document. In most of my classes, mere construction of the outline was enough. Simply organizing the class information into “silos,” helped me to learn the information. Then, a quick read right before an exam and you’re good to go.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

On Wednesday night, a student expressed some concerns about the subjective nature of one our courses and how it could hurt his GPA. UNTDCOL does not rank students, but I know this particular student to be one of the top students in our class. The adjunct professor leading this particular session, but not the professor for the actual class, reminded us to keep grades in perspective. He used himself as an example and admitted to making three—that’s 3—C’s in law school. He still managed to land a good gig at a big time law firm.

It’s what the adjunct said next that really stuck with me.

He mentioned that in talking to people in the Dallas legal community, attorneys fell into two categories when it comes to UNTDCOL—either they would never hire anyone from our school (including the hiring manager at the adjunct’s firm) or they were completely supportive of our mission and want to ensure it succeeds, presumably by hiring qualified candidates from our institution.

This caused some alarm among my classmates. Many thought securing ABA accreditation would be enough to convince the local legal community of our legitimacy, but the fact this adjunct’s firm would not hire a UNTDCOL graduate seemed to rekindle that anxiety.

There is a lot to unpack here and I do not claim to be an expert on law school recruiting, but I have worked in this industry for the past eighteen years, so I think I can provide some insight and pull back the curtain just a little bit.

First, I accept that “big law” firms will not hire UNTDCOL students. I worked for a “big law” firm that was hesitant to hire attorneys from any Texas law school not located in Austin. “Big law” wants to know who you know. Put another way, what connections did you develop in law school that either (1) produced an alumni-based advocate for you from their partnership or (2) produced potential business leads.

The inaugural graduating class of UNTDCOL has yet to receive their bar scores, so the total number of law firms with partners from our school stands at 0. Likewise, since we just graduated our first class in June, there are not UNTDCOL-trained attorneys serving as GCs for any corporations.

Second, I get that some firms want to adopt a “wait-and-see” approach to our school. The bar results released in November will say a lot, but the results for the next three or four bar exams will say even more. If UNTDCOL can, as I suggested in an earlier post, graduate classes with a 70-75% bar passage rate, firms will begin to take note and recognize the legitimacy of our mission.

This, of course, does not excuse the outright dismissal of our school by some in the legal industry. No doubt the legal industry has a few pretentious practitioners who value the degree-granting institution over the person on the diploma. Take for example the crowd in our field who felt Harriet Miers was unqualified for the Supreme Court because of her SMU education.

Indeed, there are Dallas attorneys who dismiss us.  Like the attorney who asked me, “when are you going to take a real law school exam,” after I explained to him I was studying for midterms. Apparently, this attorney felt that a “real law school exam” could only be a one question essay administered at the end of a semester.

I decided to tune out the negativity and focus on what I can control and what matters.

We attend an ABA-accredited law school and, upon graduating, we are entitled to the same rights and privileges as graduates of every other ABA-accredited law school.

Just like a Harvard grad, we earn the privilege of practicing law by sitting for and passing the bar exam.

Just like a Stanford grad, we earn our client’s business by providing the best legal advocacy possible.

Just like a Texas grad, we do so ethically and responsibly.

Over time, our work will speak for itself.

Even then, there will be those who refuse to listen, but it’s nothing a few courtroom victories can’t help but fix.

The UNTD-COL Difference

This week, Hon. Royal Furgeson announced that he will retire from his position as Dean of the UNT-Dallas College of Law at the end of June 2018. The only dean our school has known in its short history, Dean Furgeson worked tirelessly to ensure its launch went as smoothly as possible, including navigating the rough-waters of the ABA accreditation process.

In June, the ABA granted UNTDCOL’s provisional accreditation, but Dean Furgeson continued his work. I have no doubt his work will continue well past his retirement and I would just like to say, “thank you.”

You see, Dean Furgerson reads this blog.

At least occasionally.

Ok, at least once.

How do I know?

He emailed me to thank me for a post I wrote right before I started my 1L year. Just weeks before class started, an advisory committee recommended that the ABA not grant our school accreditation. Dean Furgeson held a “town hall” meeting for all students where he explained the committee’s decision and laid out the school’s plan. Dean Furgeson’s courage and conviction convinced me that sticking with this school that believed in me was the right choice.

Dean Furgeson then thanked me for my words, because that is the type of Dean and person he is. He legitimately cares about his students and staff members and takes the time to get to know each and everyone of us. I feel confident in saying that not all law school deans function this way.

We will miss your leadership Dean Furgeson and while no one can replace you, we know that you will help to ensure that the next Dean of UNTDCOL will continue to carry on your work.

 

Spoon Theory

I have been on vacation all week.

This summer that means a staycation at home to try and get things tidy and organized before the new school year starts. Things get started a month and a half from today and I can’t wait to start my second year of law school.

As I digitized some of our old files, I came across a pile of rejection letters–some from law schools and some from publishers and agents. I have eight rejection letters alone from SMU Dedman School of Law. I love reading them. Each one  gives me inspiration to keep on doing what I am doing.

One year of law school down and I managed to rank in the top 25% of my class (UNT-Dallas does not rank students, instead they provide a GPA based band), while working full-time and raising a family.

How did I do it?

Well, it wasn’t always easy.

First of all, I could not have done it without a supportive family. My wife is super human and shouldered a lot of the weight of parenting, especially during the week. Mondays through Thursdays she was pretty much a single parent. I read a lot of books and heard a lot of attorneys speak about law school and what to expect the first year. Many of them warned against starting a family while in law school and spoke of the difficulties of balancing family time and school time. That’s true to an extent, but I think if everyone in the family is all in on the law school mission, it doesn’t matter.

Second, and this is almost as important as point one, working in the legal industry helps–TREMENDOUSLY! I cannot emphasize this enough. If I were to give one piece of advice to a high school or college student considering law school (or adult considering law school), it would be to get a job in the legal industry.

A wise faculty member explained spoon theory to us during orientation. While spoon theory is most often used in helping people cope with disabilities, I think it’s a smart way to approach time management in law school. In short, we each have a finite number of spoons (think of it as bars of energy) to use over the course of each day and we must determine the most efficient way to use these spoons.

Students entering law school with limited or no previous experience in the legal field must use more spoons to learn the material presented. The more legal experience you have, the fewer spoons you have to use for law school activities and the more you can use for work, family, and free time.

Don’t tell anyone I said this, but I never spent a minute after class ended in my books or notes. Instead, I came home, ate dinner, and spent time with my wife. We do not have class on Friday nights, so on Fridays, I would not touch a school related book or look at my notes at all. Instead, as soon as I got off work, I would come home and spend time with my family. I would then spend most of Saturday and a couple of hours every Sunday morning to read and work on my notes. I still managed to watch every football game I wanted to watch and we stayed current on every TV show we watch together as a couple.

In all, I spent about 5 to 6 hours each week reading and taking notes. This was less than the amount of time I was actually in class each week and way less than what they advise a 1L student at the beginning of the year, but the main thing is to find what works for you and to stick with it.

Needles to say, my method won’t work for all students, but I think it shows how experience in the legal field can allow you to utilize fewer spoons than your peers and still have a successful law school career.

More than anything, the first  year of law school is learning to “think like a lawyer.” Working as a legal professional, you read case law, learn to spot issues, and how construct arguments on a daily basis, even you don’t recognize the acronyms IRAC or CRAC. Real world experience in the legal industry especially prepares you for Legal Writing and Legal Research.

 

 

 

 

1L

To my devoted readers, I offer my most sincere apology for failing to maintain this blog as regularly as I would have liked during my 1L year. When I began the year, I intended on chronicling my entire 1L journey, but that did not happen. I found that working forty plus hours a week and completing over twenty hours of law school took, while managing a family of four on the side, took up a little more time than I originally thought and I considered abandoning the blog not only until graduation, but until after the bar. An email I received a couple of weeks ago changed my mind.

The Dean of the UNT-Dallas College of Law–my law school–emailed me thanking me for my August post on UNTDCOL’s accreditation journey with the ABA. I noticed this particular post generates a ton of traffic, in spite of my lack of updates and I recognized their might be some genuine interest in what I have to say. 

So, as my 1L year nears its end, I aim to resurrect this blog from its cyber ashes. With finals fast approaching (next week is our final week of class), I don’t know how often I will post, but I have a lot of reflections from this first year I would love to share. Please check back frequently to see what I have to say and don’t be shy, share your feedback.

Why Does Everything Seem So Disorganized?

After one week, the toughest part about law school is figuring out what is due and when.

What’s that?

Your law school only gave a final and no other graded material?

Well, UNT-Dallas College of Law is different in a lot of ways, including that every class has multiple graded assignments, including quizzes, mid-terms, and finals.

I feel like every syllabus has been updated at least once since the official start of class on Monday, sometimes without the professor informing us of the changes.

The more I think about it, I think this might be intentional. In the “real world,” each court and judge have their own specific rules. Additionally, every case has some form of docket control order. An attorney is responsible for knowing all the rules for a specific judge and jurisdiction. They are also responsible adhering to orders entered that govern discovery, motion practice, etc.

I think our professors want to make sure we learn to read policies and procedures very carefully before sending us out to practice law. No hand holding here!