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What To Do In Your Last Summer Before Law School?

My Dear Wormwood,

The year's over.

It's been a long trip. And at this time of year, a lot of blawgers (for instance, Heidi and Jeremy) are trying to condense everything they learned over the year into an 'advice for others' post. It's a noble gesture, trying to calm the panic of those who are about to step into our footsteps. Heck, I remember reading Waddling Thunder--and come to think of it, Jeremy--in an attempt to silence my own nerves last year.

One year ago, I had just gotten back from England. I'd moved back in with my parents in the sleepy little town of Big Rapids, Michigan. There wasn't much point in getting a job, so I was supporting myself with freelance translation, sailing a small sunfish, and practicing for a half-marathon. (I chickened out of the last when Legal Methods started.) And what I really wanted to know was: what should I be doing with my summer?

The traditional 1L answer is: nothing. Spend your time enjoying your freedom. Catch up with friends and family. Laugh, watch TV, do all the things you want to do before you get to Columbia. All of which was good advice, but at the time, it was deeply unsatisfying to me. I'd just emerged from a relatively high-pressure job, and this was dead time. Obviously, I was doing something wrong.

So for you about to step into my inadequate shoes, here a few things I think you can do with your summer to make the entire 1L process easier. The advice below is most appropriate for those going to Columbia, but it's not useless for others. It's not going to put you ahead of the pack unless you're the kind that's already there. But if you think you've got to be doing something, otherwise you're wasting your precious time, you could do worse than the following.

Read Some Books: In your 1L year you may read more than you've ever read in your life. If you're assigned my particular Prof. Con Law, you may read more than you or your immediate family has read in their lives. Still, you didn't apply to law school because you dislike reading, and you might as well warm up.

I'd really recommend you read something like Quicksilver or The Diamond Age. Nonetheless, you're going to want to read something about law, because otherwise you're wasting your time, right?

So, here's some options. First, Professor Chirelstein's treatise on contracts. In your first semester you will take contracts, and no matter who your particular Prof Contracts ends up being, you'll feel a lot more comfortable if you've read this. Besides, someone forgot to tell Prof. Chirelstein that when you become a law professor, you have to start writing in a style that's either dry or incomprehensible.

My second suggestion would be either Constitutional Law Stories or Torts Stories. This series of books takes major cases in law and puts them into historical perspective. Since each chapter is written by a different author, some are more approachable than others--don't worry if you can't make it through a chapter or two. But if you've read these, your 1L Contracts and Con Law courses won't be completely terra incognito.

My final suggestion, however, would be to remember that you got into law school because you were passionate about something: read about that, particularly in how it relates to the law. If there's a particular area you're interested in, leave a comment, and maybe some of my readers can make suggestions.

Buy Your Computer: First, check to see how much financial aid you can get to purchase a notebook. Then determine how much you love technology. There's a lot of notebooks out there, and I'm not going to take it upon myself to give you definitive advice on a specific model. But here's a couple of things to look out for:

  • Choose weight over functionality: I bought the Dell 8500, largely because I wanted a large screen for my graphics work. While this seemed like a good idea at the time, I would have been better off choosing a cheaper, lighter computer, and then buying a docking station and monitor (or another computer--networking is easy these days) when I needed it at a later point. After lugging a huge computer around all year, let me suggest: get the lightest thing you can afford. (Another advantage: when you're out in the working world over the summer, small and slender notebooks fit more comfortably in briefcases.)
  • Don't choose a Mac: For once, this isn't just a slight a the World of One Mouse Button. At least at Columbia, the exam software that we use does not support Macs. If you're not going to Columbia, at least check with your IT department to see what is compatible. Nothing's more annoying that finding out that you can't use your computer because you've got the wrong OS.
  • If All Else is Equal, Choose Dell: Here's where I'll probably get the most opposition in my suggestions, and I should probably preface this by saying that you should pay attention to that first caveat: all else must be equal. Nevertheless, after having spent a good proportion of this past year fixing people's computers, I don't think I ran into more people with Dell troubles than any other brand, proportional to the number of that brand at CLS.
    So I recommend Dell--or whatever the most common machine is at your university--simply because if all else is equal, there are advantages to having common hardware with your friends. For one thing, the hardware is more easily interchangable: if your notebook is having problems, and you need to get data off of it, it's easiest if you can just slot your hard drive into a friend's computer and burn a CD.
    Again, though, please don't overemphasize that point. If there's something else you like, for some other reason, get that. Your computer will be a good friend by the end of the year, so make sure you start out with one you'll want to get to know better.

Get Your Work Style in Order: Time pressure is going to be your worst enemy in your 1L year. The quicker you settle into an efficient method of working, the quicker you'll be making progress in your studies. There's a lot of good books out there about efficient 1L work processes, most of which I never read. (These would include Law School Confidential, which apparently advocates a system of 'book-briefing' that involves a bewildering color-coded highlighting system. Some swear by it, I never read it.)

I can't give a lot of help here, except to tell you what I did. After several years in business, I will almost certainly live and die by an Outlook task list. Probably the most useful trick that I learned was to categorize my task list by class, and assign myself tasks for each day's worth of reading.

Also, it helps to look at each course as a project, with a definite output (generally an outline) to be accomplished to a definite schedule with a hard deadline (the exam). If this means nothing more than remembering to add the exam schedule to your calendar as soon as you get it, it's still worthwhile.

I'll add a little more as I get to it. In the meantime, I hope all you rising 1Ls have an excellent summer.

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Comments

Tony- The only reason I'm commenting is that, though I never read Law School Confidential at all; however, I used a great color-coded highlighting system. One color for the issue, another for the holding, a third for the facts, etc. It worked for me. Damn! I should've written a book.
Great advice, seriously. I wish I had had someone give me that advice in 2002, when I was just getting ready to go into law school in Australia. And regarding highlighting: color coding is beautiful. A color for issue, a color for ratio, a color for obiter, and a color just for everything else that seems like it might jog a thought when I look it over again. I rarely highlight facts because I find that a bit distracting; most of the relevant details are usually in the holding anyway. I developed that by sort of trial and error in Torts last year, without ever having read Law School Confidential. Outlook, too, is godsent, definitely. Been using that ever since I arrived at uni, mostly because it seemed natural to set tasks and check them off as I did them. A sense of fulfillment and all that.
As a visual learner, I swear by the colored highlighting (and by Law School Confidential which should be required pre-1L reading, since it provides a concise overview and a roadmap of all three years). An even better tip culled from the book was to draw a little picture at the top of each case, to remind you what it was about. It's amazing how much you can recall months later when you see a stack of flax by the railroad tracks. Drawings engage a different part of the brain, and force you to really think about the essence of the case (to distill it into a tiny image). And they make reading more fun! With regard to computers, I'm going to disagree and push the IBM t40 line. No one I know with an IBM is unhappy, and I know several people with Dells who wish they'd gotten an IBM. I love my t40, and think it's one of the best designed pieces of hardware out there (second to the mini iPod). It's a workhorse, and, in my opinion, the increase in quality over a comparable Dell is worth the extra couple hundred dollars, particularly over three years. I bought one with less RAM and added more (very simple), which brought the cost down a bit. IBM also had a sale towards the end of last summer. Who knows if they'll repeat it, but it's worth checking out! In the end, it's the old story - no one ever got fired for buying IBM. It's not the sexiest option, but I think it's the best.
I'll second the T40 love and also call attention to the fact that many universities have special relationships with computer vendors that can get you a discount on your laptop. Buying my IBM through Harvard instead of independently saved me over $1000 dollars. It's worth checking into before you sink a lot of money into a machine the summer before school starts.
I'll second the T40 love and also call attention to the fact that many universities have special relationships with computer vendors that can get you a discount on your laptop. Buying my IBM through Harvard instead of independently saved me over $1000 dollars. It's worth checking into before you sink a lot of money into a machine the summer before school starts.
I enjoyed the Courage of Their Convictions. I think I read it halfway through school but it definitely inspired. Coupled with a dose of the Brethren to bring me back down to reality . . . .
if you want to save up money your pre-1L summer, you might consider a part-time no-brainer retail job. i'm the kind of person that gets depressed if i'm not in contact with people, so a customer service job was a great way for me to relax that summer without feeling totally useless. also, if you have the money, it's a great time to travel.
At some point along the line you'll realize that many and perhaps most of the people offering you law school advice are simply lying. The Professors lie when they tell you the commercial outlines won't help or that your "class participation" will affect your grade, the guide books lie when they tell you you've got to churn through all that reading, your classmates lie when they tell you how much studying they're doing. IMHO, the most important function of law school is to prepare you for all the deceit and injustice you'll face as a lawyer. So, I'll not add to the B.S. all you entering 1Ls are getting elsewhere. You're smart people, you've developed skills that have gotten you this far, and the competition isn't that much different from what you saw in undergrad (and besides, it's damned near impossible to flunk out of law school). Do what you think is best and you'll figure out what works for you soon enough. In 10 years it won't matter a whit whether you graduated summa cum laude or summa cum lucky.
Doesn't anyone read Karl Lewellyn's The Bramble Bush or Holmes' The Common Law the summer before law school anymore? I enjoyed them both before law schoole back in the late '70s. I will also strongly suggest IBM notebooks, they're reliable and rugged, probably less 'sexy', but more dependable than a Dell. I bought my daughter a Dell 600M as college freshman, and there are still things that are as fast on a 1998 IBM Thinkpad 300E notebook!
Doesn't anyone read Karl Lewellyn's The Bramble Bush or Holmes' The Common Law the summer before law school anymore? I enjoyed them both before law schoole back in the late '70s. I will also strongly suggest IBM notebooks, they're reliable and rugged, probably less 'sexy', but more dependable than a Dell. I bought my daughter a Dell 600M as college freshman, and there are still things that are as fast on a 1998 IBM Thinkpad 300E notebook!
Speak for yourself when you say "it's damned near impossible to flunk out of law school." Some law schools, such as mine, have a forced bell curve with a guaranteed attrition rate between 20-30%. I worked my ass off and almost failed my first year.
"Don't choose a Mac: For once, this isn't just a slight a the World of One Mouse Button. At least at Columbia, the exam software that we use does not support Macs. If you're not going to Columbia, at least check with your IT department to see what is compatible. Nothing's more annoying that finding out that you can't use your computer because you've got the wrong OS." Wrong. You have always been able to run windows software on a mac (emulation) and now a year after this article "boot camp" w/ a mac book pro can outperform any other intel based pc running windows.
Tommy: Not to burst your bubble, but: a) Examsoft doesn't, to the best of my or anyone else's knowledge, run under emulation. If you know differently, please tell me. Please include screenshots and actual evidence before stating with such certainty that something is "wrong." b) Even if it works, the school probably wouldn't let you run ExamSoft anyway. The purpose of the software is to prevent any kind of cheating, and even if the software will run, it probably hasn't been tested on a Mac to see if a Mac user would be able to cheat as it ran under emulation. Before leaving a flaming post as a holy noble crusader in the OS Wars, try learning that of which you speak.
I heard examsoft is a waste anyway, because you can't use anything like it for the Bar and must write it all by hand. Maybe it helps for 1L but it sounds like a bad dependency to create. Especially if you're making decisions involving thousands of dollars (which laptop?) based upon one piece of software - which you will use for a max of three years (two if you do 3L finals hand-written to prep for Bar) and never touch again.
Awesome blog. Peace out until next time TabathaOster
Examsoft's SofTest now supports Boot Camp. Some IT departments allow the use of Boot Camp with SofTest, while others do not. Use of VirtualPC or other emulation software is still an honor code violation, because it allows you to route around Windows and access OS X. Boot Camp, however, is a boot loader. When you run XP in Boot Camp, you are running a Windows machine. You have no way of accessing any OS X data without rebooting. Note also that many states use exam software for the bar exam.

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