10 Things You Should Know About Law School (from two ex-TAs)
If you’ve ever wanted to get inside your professor’s head and take a look around, we’ve got the next best thing! Two former law school Teaching Assistants (who together covered Contracts, Torts, and Civ Pro) share ten tips that would have made their students’ lives a lot easier.
Our best tips:
- You’re making this more complicated than it needs to be. Law school is stressful and challenging, but it’s not impossible! So often, students would come to office hours in a complete panic about how much they had to learn, and how they’d never be able to remember everything. When we started talking about specific topics, however, it turned out they already knew most of what they needed to know. Moral of the story: You know more than you think. Just calm down and start with the basics. When you’re feeling overwhelmed about outlining, for example, get out a piece of paper and a pen and copy the headers from your course syllabus. Fill in the details from there, and you’ll be well on your way to success!
- You’re as smart as the rest of your class. Law school has a way of making smart people feel very, very stupid. The whole system is set up to make you feel that way, actually. Your professor, who may only be a couple of days ahead of you in terms of what he knows about a topic, uses the Socratic Method to appear to be an all-knowing sage. Your classmates, who barely understand the cases, pontificate on unrelated topics or go on about how easy the whole thing is. Don’t buy it. No one knows what they’re doing, and the people who talk the most probably aren’t getting the best grades. The Admissions Committee didn’t screw up when they admitted you. You can learn to be a successful law student, just like everyone else. It’s a process, and you’re still the same smart person you’ve always been.
- It pays to get to know your professors (and your TAs). When was the last time you went to office hours? If it was more than a couple of weeks ago, it’s time to make an effort to get to know your professors. Sure, they seem really scary, but most of them just have bad social skills. A visit to office hours can be awkward if you drop by just to chat, so try to bring something you’ve been working on. Do you have specific questions about a case that was discussed in class, or about a section of your outline? These are great topics to discuss, because they put the focus on the law (where your professor is very comfortable) and take it off of chit-chat (where they may not be as comfortable). Try to get to know your TAs, too, because they can share great study resources with you!
- Being polite and helpful can improve your grade. Yes, most law school exams are graded anonymously, so you might do well even if you never say anything (or behave like an obnoxious gunner). But most professors also include a class participation component, which can shift your grade up (in most cases) or down (in some cases). A little known secret is that your TA might be asked to weigh in on who should get additional points. If you were polite and helpful in section — volunteering answers, asking good questions, etc. — that’s going to be remembered!