This is Beau Baez and today I continue my
collaboration with Steve Schwartz over at LSAT blog. So last time he told me a
little bit about the LSAT so today we’re reversing it he’s going to be
interviewing me and we’re gonna be talking about what you need to do to
prepare for law school, what the first year of law school is like, those basic
questions as you’re thinking about law school and what you need. So with that
Steve take over. Hi it’s great to be chatting with you again. I was really you
know I really enjoyed our previous conversation and I was hoping to share
some of your advice with my audience today, those who are looking to go to law
school, those who are considering law school. So I was I was hoping if you
could just give us a general overview. Let’s say someone is in undergrad and
they’re thinking about law school. They’re pre-law, maybe they’re political
science major most likely but what should they be thinking about in
undergrad in terms of choosing their classes, in terms of orienting themselves
the right way to succeed in law school. I’ve taught thousands of students and you know
you start asking people what’s your major would you end up in college and of
course the vast majority are liberal arts majors. You get the occasional
science guy or science woman but most the time it’s liberal arts. PolySci, English those sort of things. I was speech communications. We all come from
the liberal arts. But what I have found, interestingly enough, the students
that that have had classes that mimic the law school experience tend to have a
slight advantage and I would say a slightly but it’s not a huge advantage
so that tends to be the philosophy classes of all things. Because they teach
their classes just like we do in law school. Law school we use the Socratic
method, which is a question and answer approach. So I call on, Mr. Schwartz please tell me about the facts in… And I name a particular case and we go
back and forth. And the philosophy do that. So they get to a higher level of of thinking than I think most other majors prepare you for. So even if you’re not a philosophy major I would take a couple of philosophy classes if you can. Now you have to balance that. You need to make sure you get top grades
because when you look at law school admissions it’s based on LSAT and GPA, almost exclusively. So don’t take a philosophy class, and end up with a C or D. Make sure you put the time and effort in it. But I think if you take a
few, more than just the intro class, a couple of the upper-level classes,
I think you’re gonna start thinking a little bit differently. So that’s a
great idea. It’s kind of funny I’ve actually seen that those who tend to do the best on the LSAT are typically philosophy or physics majors. So both
very challenging majors, tough classes, maybe tough to do well. But if you can,
then it could help develop some of those skills. I’m wondering what about the
summer before law school. Let’s say someone’s finished senior year and they’re looking ahead they want to get a head start. What should they do? The person who wants to get a head start needs to do that. I’m on social media and I see a lot of bad advice from current law students and people who are going to law school. Here’s the bad advice. The bad advice: hey just spend the summer, have fun, go to
Tahiti, you know what whatever it is. Travel around Europe, don’t think
about law school. I’ll tell you that’s a mistake. Now I think you should
take some time. Go spend some time with the family, take a little bit of time off. But law school, it’s a different game. What worked in college is not going to
work in law school and so the sooner you can start getting a law school mindset
the more likely you’re gonna get better grades. Because once you’re in law school
the better jobs go to the top of the class and the opportunities go to the
top of the class. Being on law review, being on moot court. So if you can leverage that, get a couple months head start that’s great. So how
do you do that? So some people will buy a couple books and there’s
some out there I don’t want to recommend any now they keep changing every few
years. So my recommended list changes. There are some, I think, great law school
prep classes, courses out there. I’ve looked around about four or five some of
them are a little bit better than others again I’m not going to name them. But
here’s I think what you look for. When you’re looking for a law school prep
class, look for one that prepares you by giving you the skills you need. I think the ones that I think are weaker just sort of entered
to the material so you have some professor from some great law school who
teaches you constitutional or at least an introduction to constitutional law or
torts or contracts. That’s almost worthless. What you need is somebody
who’s going to teach you how do I brief a case, how do I begin
preparing for my final exams? Those are the skills that are important. That’s what’s going to get you to the top of the class, not knowing you know a little
bit of torts or contracts or property law. That makes perfect sense. So you’re
saying look to develop the skills rather than just absorbing the content, the
information. And how would you recommend that someone evaluate one of these law
school prep courses to properly determine whether the course is teaching
them skills or information. Is there a way to tell? The ones that are poor you look
at you know the descriptions and they often will give you like a little
preview. And you can quickly see, oh this course is just teaching me property,
contracts. You know the content of the courses. Which again is worthless. The
other ones actually will tell you. We teach you case briefing, and
you’ll actually see skills. How to prepare for class. How to
take notes. If you start seeing the how questions rather than the what questions,
you know you are finding the right kind of course. That’s excellent advice thanks
for sharing that. I’m sure that my audience will find it valuable.
What about once they’re in law school? What about beginning first semester 1L.
What’s it going to be like for them? What’s law school like? What is
actually covered? You mentioned some of the topics a little bit but I’m sure a
lot of people listening still don’t know exactly what is a tort? So law schools
in America are it’s a very lockstep curriculum across the board, in most law schools. There’s some small deviation but generally you should expect in the first
year to take the following classes: torts contracts, Civil Procedure, property maybe Con Law, maybe criminal law. More or less those are the the five or six
courses. In many schools they are year-long courses, so you’ll take Torts I, Torts II. And Torts, by the way, is just an old Norman French word. Because remember the Normans conquered England in 1066 and so we
we’re still using old Norman French and modernly we would just say personal
injury law. So nownow what happens when somebody punches
somebody else in the face, what happens when there’s a car accident, what happens if you’ve been defamed? Those are all personal injuries. So that’s what I primarily
teach in the first year. Love teaching Torts. So that’s the content,
and legal writing. There’s always a legal writing class, which by the way, is probably the most important class you’ll take. It’s a skills class. So most people
think: well the professor’s you know the top professors are teaching towards
contracts but where you’re going to learn how to succeed how to write is
gonna be a legal writing and the reason that’s so important is because when I
assess you when your professor assesses you your final exam it’s gonna be a
written exam and it’s gonna be unlike anything you’ve seen before which means
from day one you need to start thinking you’ll keep the end in mind the end is
the final exam what do I do from day one to prepare for
that final exam so you’re saying that legal writing is actually one of the
more important courses even though it’s not really emphasized as much when
people think about law school in general is that because maybe legal writing is
what you actually practice no matter what when you’re a lawyer part of it is
to it is how law schools treat legal writing professors so many schools
they’re adjuncts they’re almost treated as second hand or second rate faculty so
they tend to be a revolving door it’s a lot of work you know they’re given a lot
of work to do they have a lot of grading a lot of reading a lot of and they get
burnt out and and then generally they put the doctrinal faculty towards
contract so those professors on a pedestal so the students see that I go
oh okay this woman she’s a full professor with tenure so she must be
more important and so you tend to view their status as making the course more
important and grab their important courses their foundational courses but
you’re gonna get your grade is gonna be dependent on how you write and it’s that
legal writing instructor that’s gonna help you move to the top of the class
and then legal writing also impacts your exam results of course it’s all about
the exam so can you share a little bit about aside from legal writing what
should students do to prepare for exams especially 1L year fall semester, when
they’re being thrown from the frying pan into the fire? First of all, you need to
understand what you did in college is not going to work in law school. It’s a
different approach completely. First the time commitment. Some people are listening to us now were
able to get away with 15-20 hours a week. And then hang out at a frat, or
hang out with the buddies, or go to movies. No, that’s not how it works. Expect to spend 50 to 60 hours, a week. That includes the time you
spend in class but this is a full time job. 50 to 60 hours a week as a professional. If you’re not spending that kind of time
you’re unlikely going to be successful. So step one recognizing
the time constraints. Second is once you understand the endgame, it’s that final exam, you have to understand how am I being tested and how
do I prepare for it? So they’re essay exams. Starting two weeks before finals to
prepare, not gonna work. It has to be something you start from day one. Outlining. So from day one you’re gonna prepare for class. After each class,
within 24 hours, you need to take what you learned in class and write a rule
outline, where you take the two, three, four rules you learned in class that day
and put them into an outline for each course. So in torts I start off with the
intentional torts. You’ll have a headline that says intentional torts, then
you’ll have the individual torts: battery, false imprisonment, trespass, etc. And you’re gonna start filling that out. And the reason I say within 24 hours
because of the learning curve. Within 48 hours you’ve lost almost everything you
learned 48 hours earlier, so unless you reinforce it within 24 hours you’re
gonna have to relearn it. So it’s a waste of time. You don’t have the extra time to
relearn all the class three weeks before. So step one is outlining a rule outline,
second, you got to practice your writing. There are exercises you can do to
start doing mini IRAC. And by IRAC, it’s a standard way of organizing an essay exam. “I” issue; “R” rule; “A” application; “C” conclusion. And you need to start
thinking that way, and that’s the hard part. That’s what takes most students a
semester or two or three to master and if you
don’t master that skill you’re not going to succeed, you’re not going to get
better grades. It’s starting to learn to think in terms of IRAC and doing
exercises that get you into that mindset. A skill. Once again this is something
that students could even practice the summer before 1L, correct? Absolutely, yes!
The sooner they start practicing it, because it’s not automatic. So I’ll tell
you my case. It took me three semesters. I call it the aha moment. Everybody
has this moment when they go ahh, that’s what they want why didn’t they tell me. Well
we were telling you but it just it’s because it’s a different way of
thinking. So in my third semester of law school, all of a sudden: that’s IRAC! That’s what they want and my grades went up a full letter grade in all my classes. It had that kind of impact, just understanding and it happens for
different people at different times. For some it happens in the first semester. Those
are the people get the top grades. So if you can start practicing in May, you know
you’re hoping that by December, right, that you will have mastered the skill
so that you can get one of those top grades, which will get you on to law
review and get you the good jobs that we’re all looking for. That’s really
great to know. So this is a skill that you can actually walk into law school
day one already knowing how to do it and I’m sure it makes it so much easier if
you start that process earlier. So the earlier you start, because it just takes
time. You’re training your brain and it’s not something you can pick up in a week
or two or three. It just takes time. I understand that you
offer your tutoring and you have a course and you’re gonna have more
courses can you share a bit more about what you what you do for law students
and prospective law students? So people tend to come to me, I mean I can help anybody at any point during their law school career. But what I tend
to do is get people right around exam time that’s what people
started having that freak out moment and I start working with them teaching them
these skills that we’re talking about now because it’s it’s a learned skill
and unfortunately many law schools, professors don’t teach students these
skills, and usually it’s because most professors are judged by their peers and
by the university by scholarship. So that means they lock their doors, they
work from home, because they have to write. It’s the whole
publish or perish. So if they’re not writing they’re not going to get tenure,
they’re not going to get promoted, they’re not for some professors they
want to jump ship they want to go to another law school so they’ve got to
keep publishing, which means they don’t have time to teach students. So I take
that time and and you know and it does take time. So we go through exercises. If
it’s after exams they get a lot of people after their finals so I’m dealing
with a lot of students now at schools all over the place. I’m dealing
the students in the top 14 Harvard Georgetown and then schools that are
not as prestigious. And they all have the same problem: how do I write
a law school exam. So I go through that with them if they’ve got
their final exam we go through that. Some students pick up the skill quickly and
others need a little bit more help and it just sort of depends where you are:
what knowledge skills and abilities you came to to law school with and how
quickly you pick this up. Because my goal is not to keep somebody dependent on my abilities. I am happy when somebody goes “ahh,” I’ve got it, I don’t need to work
with another tutor, thank you so much professor Baez. That’s my day you
have made my day when you have developed that skill. So that’s my
goal in doing my tutoring is to get people to become independent of needing
my work. Well it sounds like you offer a great service and a great resource for
anyone applying to law school and planning what to do on that summer
before one L. The biggest takeaway I got from our conversation is that it’s
not too early to start developing those skills even the summer before law school.
You could save yourself so much trouble if you just master those skills, like
IRAC and mini IRAC before you even walk in the fall semester. So thank you
professor Baez. Thank you I appreciate our chat and look forward to
collaborating with you on something in the future take care of Steve. Same.