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Law Students And Sharing

Dear Wormwood:

As my final hurdles of 1L-hood seem ever-closer, the school is gearing up for exams. Or rather, some of us are gearing up for exams, while others have already retooled, refueled, repainted, geared up, and are actually threatening to push that big button labelled "NITRO." As my last class in Foundations of the Regulatory State (read 'Law, Econ, and Policy') was today, I'd like to cast a critical eye over the market that's emerging here: that in outlines and notes. The market is characterized by three classes of individuals:

Non-Market Participants: These are the people who have their notes locked in small safes hidden in their floorboards and their outlines under guards moonlighting from the Federal Reserve. Their study groups started the semester with blood-pacts never to share group work product, and probably had several pages worth of contract defining what was 'shared group work product' and what was 'acceptable personal trade collateral.'

Some of these folks have put immense amounts of effort into creating the ideal outline, and have done so in all their classes. From a Reg State point of view, they're not participating in the market because it's unlikely that any item on the market could be worth the polished jewel of legal knowledge they've managed. The less benign Non-Market Participant, however, has accepted the zero-sum nature of the grading curve and figures that anyone who needs his help must perforce be destined to a lower rank than he--no point in helping.

Note that any outline wrenched, stolen, or otherwise acquired from a Non-Market Participant is, to their credit, likely to be very good indeed.

The Jawas, Pokemon Masters, Poker Sharks, Market Makers, Influence Peddlers, and Other Related Traders: It's here that the market for outlines is made. Individuals in this group have either a single great outline, or a number of 'working copies' that they can share around. These individuals belong to multiple study groups--sometimes ignoring the blood-pacts--and are perfectly willing to swap information with you, so long as you've got what they want.

Quality of these outlines will vary, as will their heritage. Jawas who have garnered premium outlines may hold out for 'complete sharing' agreements, in which counterparties offer to share all their information; others may be willing to make one-on-one trades. Trading often occurs more aggressively towards the end of the semester: more product is available on the market, making for higher liquidity, and many Jawas want to 'hold out' to make sure they don't get cheated or lose out on later deals.

I've not seen it yet, but I'm waiting for the ultimate Jawa to evolve: the person who doesn't actually read any of the outlines, but just wants to see if he can collect whole sets in order to trade them.

Freeloaders, Freelovers, and Butterflies: I group these together because they're often indistinguishable. The first two either do no outlines and try to snag them off others, or are perfectly willing to share what they've got with whomever. The 'Butterflies' treat outlines as cocoons: the real benefit of an outline is the effort put into creating it, which can't be transferred. They really don't care what happens to the shell after they've emerged from it.

The quality of outline from this group is varied, but higher than you might think. A good Butterfly may have better notes than a Non-Market Participant, but simply not buy into the zero-sum game.

Anyway, Wormwood, this is a rougher taxonomy than I might otherwise construct for you, but I want to get back to writing up my Con Law outline. I'm sure I've missed one or two subspecies, and maybe my readers will fill out the evolutionary tree. Please don't take any of my words above as ones of condemnation or approval: each member of the Law School ecosystem has their own little part to play, and I'm sure they're all a valuable part of the Circle of Life as it exists in law school.

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Comments

Scary stuff. What percentage would you say are "non-market participants"? I'm actually deciding between Columbia, Boalt, and NYU right now. Not being a zero-sum type of guy myself, not quite sure if I want to be stuck running with the gunners.
Oh, don't get me wrong, Caliboy. I doubt that Columbia/Boalt/NYU have any great differences in 'ecosystem.' I think it's just a part of the greater system. :)
Build your own system. At business school I created a sharing culture by putting all my notes on a shared drive and encouraging others to do the same. After that there wasn't much question about whether people should share, if someone was thought to have good notes on x,y or z up they went. Since the notes are still up on the MBA Experience website this seems to have infected the next years class as well. (which is nice) Some even made it up as scans of handwritten lecture notes and diagrams. Either way the fringe benefits of being generous are significant - I bought very few drinks after exams and should I ever get to Bulgaria I've been promised unlimited beer by one greatful colleague...
I guess you could say I was the ultimate freeloading Jawa... For Corporations several years ago, I had no outlines and spartan notes. I managed to get my first outline from a friend who had graduated the previous semester--thus, she had no reason to demand anything in return. I then leveraged that one outline and my spartan notes via various trades to collect three other complete outlines as well as two complete sets of notes. Did I actually utilize any of them? Well, I looked at them once or twice during the open-book final exam, but that was about it...
Here, I copied this post from my blog. I hope that you find this informative. My Advice to Law Students on how to Approach the Experience: Many of the blogs run by law students continually return to the theme of “the law school experience,” that is what it entails and how to succeed, (or at least get by). As someone who has both a JD & an LL.M., let me offer some advice. First, we should all realize that there are “many ways up the mountain,” that is, many ways to approach achievement and more than one way works. To compound the issue further, some ways work better for some folks than others. (For instance, it was rumored that Bill Clinton at Yale used to blow off many of his classes and didn’t otherwise do much preparing for class. Before the exam, he would simply ask the “smartest student” in the class—which most of the time was Hillary—for her outline, study it hard before the test, and then he would get an even better grade on the exam than she did). I think one of the major hurdles that a law student—especially a first year—confronts is time constraints. There is a lot of work to do, and we want to do well but still have a social life, down-time for activities we enjoy, get a good night’s sleep every night. My approach (which remember may not work for all) is one that allows for the maximum effectiveness but while utilizing the minimum time. First off, let me say that the approach that I am about to give succeeded for me. I graduated in the top third of my law school class at Temple University, with an overall average of 3.22 (when I began law school, our school had an exam curve of 3.0, and then mid-way through the experience, the school lowered it to 2.85). Plus I was in an MBA program, (with an unrelated GPA system) which made me always have to take a full 15 credit load each semester. I passed the bar after the first try and then enrolled in Temple’s LL.M. in Transnational Law program, which courses were also offered in the JD program and likewise had the same 2.85 curve. I graduated with over a 3.6 in this program (I was taking courses part time—1 to 2 a semester). Moreover, in the JD program, my lowest grade was a B- (never got below it—although I did get a small handful of them). My lowest grade in the LL.M. program was B+. I always slept 8 hours, watched TV, had a social life, did the things I enjoyed. So how did I do it? First let me reproduce an email that blogger Unlearned Hand reproduced regarding an 1L NYU classroom, on what NOT TO DO. This is a nasty email that the student sent to her professor (the blogger was saying it's a bad idea to send nasty emails to your professor. I agree. But the email also details classroom conduct that likewise is what law students should not be doing): may i respectfully suggest that perhaps having an instructor who seemed somewhat interested in actually teaching the material objectively and creating an even slightly welcoming classroom discussion atmosphere would have prompted both myself and the vast majority of the rest of the class to pay attention and participate rather than sending each other instant messages, playing online games, and checking our email (my italics) . Playing online games, checking email, sending messages, and otherwise not being in class on time every day—that is what you SHOULD NOT DO. Now when I attended law school (graduated in ’99) some of the students had laptops; most didn’t. But the classrooms WERE NOT wired. I remember some of the students playing games, but we couldn’t do all that. Instead, treat those classroom hours like GOLD. Typically you only have to sit in class between 12-15 hours a week (not a relatively large amount of time). So be there on time and as soon as the professor begins to speak, take notes like you are a stenographer in a court room. I didn’t always do this in the JD program. Sometimes I would primarily rely on commercial outlines, or outlines from past students—but in those classes, where I either didn’t have perfect attendance, or I let my mind wander—they were the ones where I tended to get the lower grades like “B” or “B-.” I was more consistent about showing up to every class and taking down everything the teacher said in my LL.M. program—and my GPA shot way up, even as the curve didn’t change. Why is it so important to take notes like this and attend every minute of class? Because if you do this—if you put most of your hard work and energy into these ONLY 12-15 hours a week of work, you can do far LESS work outside of class—which are those hours that we cherish. In fact, you can pretty much stop doing the reading entirely if you are in every class taking down practically everything the teacher says as if you were a stenographer. I remember classes where I literally never cracked a book until the very end when I was putting my outline together and I needed to copy some quotes from the cases, or make sure I got the holding right—and I got A-, or B+. (I got a few full “As” too, but they were pretty hard to come by with our curve.) My employment law professor (taught by a hard-ass professor, a very hard grader) told us that for every 1 hour in class, we should spend 3.5 hours preparing, literally reading the cases over & over again till we new them as well as she did (she says when she prepares for class, she will sometimes read the cases 7 times—but law profs. only have 6 credits a week teaching load!). I absolutely did not heed her advice. I never read the cases more than once, and I was prepared, I'd say, at most 40% of the time in her class. I was one of 3 full As in that section of employment law, (which had about 45 people). I was interested in the subject so I took good notes, and I had a good outline from the class before, which I used to model my outline on. Then once you have your copious notes, make an outline from it—or organize those notes into an outline. And here is where you can use (1) the text, (2) past outlines, & (3) commercial outlines, not so much to act as your primary source—but to supplement weaker areas, fill those gaps (and there should be too many gaps) that might exist, or simply to confirm that you got it right in your notes. Your entire grade in lawschool is based on your exam performance. So in essence, you should be preparing for the exam, not necessarily preparing for class, in order to succeed. You should spend the most amount of care taking notes in class and then constructing an outline based on those notes. Thus, the time out of class that you spend making the outline is more important than the time you spend in class prep. Start your outlines early; don’t fall behind. Go home and immediately type your notes after class into the outline. I’d say, save for the very end of the semester when you spend many hours getting ready for the exams, I rarely spent more than 40 hours a week -- INCLUDING THOSE 12-15 CLASS HOURS -- doing “work.” And most of the out of class hours were spend preparing the outlines, not preparing for class. I know this might not work for everyone. And the teachers expect you to be prepared for class. Many teachers use a system where they call on names in alphabetical order or once they call you, they cross your name off of a list, so you don’t have to prepare after that. So you can prepare when you are on call, and then stop reading once off. I don’t want to advise people to be hostile & disrespectful of class room etiquette where you are expected to be prepared for class (although I did have a few awkward incidences where I wasn't prepared but was called on). But in my experience, preparing for class is one of the least important aspects of preparing for the final—which is the only grade that counts. Yet, if you blow off class or don’t pay attention in class, it might be a good idea to prepare for as many classes as you can, because this will make “re-learning” the material for the final, easier. One reason why preparing for class was not as important a learning tool for me is that I tend to be a slower reader (compared to an average law student), and my attention breaks easy when I am not reading something that I really enjoy. Thus, it just took me too long to do all of the reading effectively. And in class—because of my short attention span—I also had a hard time paying attention without taking copious notes. In some classes I had the attitude, “I won’t write down everything the professor says, just the really important stuff,” but then I found my attention wandering, and my notes ended up not being too good. And consequently I would do more mediocre in those classes. If I write down everything the professor says—the act of my hand constantly being active taking everything down greatly helped me to follow (and understand) the entire lectures for just about all of my classes where I did this.
Tony: Here's a question for you as one of my tech-savvy law school friends ... what about wiki ...? I don't know much about it, but couldn't one be set up for a class, and everyone would just add in their thoughts/evaluations/additions/corrections?
Chris: Short answer (because I'm in Con Law crunch): yes, but it would have to be administered, which might be a pain in the neck for whoever was the admin. Otherwise, no particular reason why not.

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